Essay writing is a large part of many classes in high school and college. Whether in English classes or not, teachers often require students to turn in multiple drafts and an essay outline. An effective essay will use an outline to sort through ideas, ensure that all essential points are covered, and make drafting easier. 

However, many students don’t know how to effectively write an essay outline for academic writing. In this article, we will walk you through the process of writing a good essay outline and include a free essay outline template for you. 

Importance of Writing Outlines

The essay writing process generally involves the following steps: choosing a topic, brainstorming and researching, writing and outlining, and drafting. Within these steps, an outline will provide guidance and organization for the majority of the ideas that will end up in the research paper. 

Outlines are crucial for essay organization. An effective outline shows all the main points, supports the topic, and, most importantly, makes the essay writing process more manageable. Once you finish an outline and start working on a rough draft, you should be able to use your outline to help you complete it. 

How to Write an Essay Outline

Once you’ve chosen an essay topic and done some basic research, you should have enough background information to begin outlining. While the type of essay you are writing may vary, the instructions on writing an essay outline are essentially the same. 

  1. Start by finding your thesis statement or topic sentence; the sentence the whole outline will support. 
  2. The first section of your outline will be your thesis statement and some introductory points.
  3. Separate your outline into separate sections according to your body paragraphs. 
  4. Under each main idea, summarize several minor arguments and details. 
  5. Include background information and research to support your main views. 
  6. The final section will be a conclusion: restate your thesis statement and a few of your main points. 

The outline can be as simple as bullet points or as detailed as complete sentences. As long as your central claims are explicit throughout your procedure, you’ll be able to come back to it and find a framework for your drafting process. 

Different Types of Essays

In a college English class, you might be required to write one of many different types of essays. In all of these essays, citing your sources and sticking to the proper writing format are crucial. 

Regardless of your essay’s style, an outline will help you organize your thoughts and prepare for writing the paper. 

Don’t forget to always cite your sources correctly according to the style guide in question. To make your job easier, you can use a tool like Quetext and their citation generator.

Here are the common types of college essays and how their outlines might differ. 

Persuasive Essay Outline

A persuasive essay is the most common type of essay taught in rhetoric and composition classes. Persuasive essays generally have a thesis statement that consists of a topic and a position on that topic. When creating a persuasive essay outline template, it is crucial to ensure that all of your main points support your side of the argument. 

Narrative Essay Outline

A narrative essay is still non-fiction but is more story driven. Narrative essays tell a personal experience as though it were a story (think of a memoir or autobiography if it helps). When thinking of a narrative essay, it’s helpful to write the story’s main events as points on your essay outline. 

Argumentative Essay Outline

An argumentative essay is extremely similar to a persuasive essay. However, you will have an added set of bullet points for your opposing view. In an argumentative essay, you’ll need to include your opposite view as well as a refutation of your opposing view. Otherwise, it’s very similar to a persuasive essay outline. Create or look online for an argumentative essay outline template to make your job easier.

Expository Essay Outline

Expository writing is the same as an informative essay. An expository essay will have the facts and statistics about a phenomenon or historical event without any opinions or bias. When creating an expository essay outline, ensure that you have the background information to fill it well. 

Contrast Essay Outline

Usually used as part of literary criticism, a contrast essay outline will take two different works of fiction, products, or historical events and compare and contrast them. Usually, the outline will set up an aspect in which the two items are different and evidence to support that for each paragraph. 

Reflective Essay Outline 

Perhaps the most personal of the college essay requirements, reflective essays require students to consider their position on a topic or an event and write about their point of view on it. This is usually done in a journal style but can still benefit from an outline to help organize the writer’s thoughts. 

Research Paper Outline

Unlike an expository essay, a research paper goes in-depth about a specific historical event, subject, or literary work. To prepare a research essay outline template, you will need preliminary research and know what you are writing about. Research papers are longer, so their outlines will be long as well. 

College Essay Outline

If you are applying for college and want to write the perfect essay for your application, you will benefit from using a college essay outline template. These essays vary depending on the prompt but are often reflective or narrative essays. Word count is the most important thing to look at in a college essay. 

Literary Analysis Essay Outline

If you are in an upper-level literature class, you might be assigned a literary analysis essay. These focus on closely reading a work of literature and discussing the themes, characters, or plotlines present. Ensure you read the source material carefully to find evidence for your literary analysis essay outline template. 

Essay Outline Template

No matter the essay topic or type of essay, most essays follow a similar outline structure, with an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Here is a standard outline template for essay with five paragraphs: 

  1. Introduction paragraph
    1. Hook to draw audience in
    2. Introductory sentences
    3. Thesis
  2. First major claim 
    1. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    2. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    3. Support for minor claim (facts and statistics)
  3. Second major claim 
    1. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    2. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    3. Support for minor claim (facts and statistics)
  4. Third major claim 
    1. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    2. Support for major claim (minor claim)
    3. Support for minor claim (facts and statistics)
  5. Conclusion 
    1. Restate thesis 
    2. Restate strongest main claim 
    3. Final clinching statement

Final Thoughts

With this free essay template, you should be able to create your own essay outline within a few minutes. Make sure that you adjust the outline for your essay’s needs and don’t forget to check for plagiarism every step of the writing process. Happy writing!