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Tips on Writing an Essay Outline 

It is possible you are familiar with that feeling where your mind is full of good essay ideas, but you do not have any idea where to begin. Or it may be that you feel stuck after just a few sentences and cannot go forward. In cases like these, and indeed in others, writing an outline is a process that helps writers get their words onto paper in an orderly manner. In simple terms, an essay outline is a type of framework for creating a text. Consequently, it is essential to know how to develop an outline for any type of writing.   

Key Steps in Creating an Outline 

  • Decide what the purpose of your writing is. Work out what type of essay you will be writing i.e. whether it is an analytical, descriptive, reflective, persuasive, or some other genre of writing. This will provide focus for your thoughts. Now you can decide on a topic.
  • Once the topic is agreed on, do whatever research you feel is necessary to collect information to support it. Once these materials have been collected, consider the best way to organize them. You may, for instance, want to arrange them by theme or in chronological order. Or if you will be putting forward a number of arguments, you may want to present the ones that oppose your stance first and then refute them by presenting your supporting arguments.
  • Work out how best to narrow your topic down into smaller sub-topics based on any information you have so far collected. Dedicate one paragraph to each of these sub-topics. Then work out which key points you will cover in each individual paragraph.
  • Create a rough draft of your introductory paragraph. Additionally, a thesis statement that provides a brief overview of the essay is usually placed in the introductory paragraph.
  • For the body paragraphs, arrange all your main points for each sub-topic and provide suitable evidence to support each point.
  • The concluding paragraph should summarize all key points from the body paragraphs and demonstrate how any conclusions were reached. It is a good idea to include a final thought that causes your readers to continue to dwell on the topic and information you have presented to them.
  • Your outline will need to be reviewed to ensure nothing vital has been missed and that all information is neatly organized in a logical manner.  

Selecting a Topic

You should create an outline according to the genre of paper and the topic. It is the topic that will influence the nature of the information you look for and the genre of the paper will determine how this information is organized and presented. If a topic has not been pre-assigned to you, you will need to decide first and foremost if you will write an analytical, compare and contrast, descriptive, persuasive, or some other type of essay. After the type has been decided, your topic will need to be formulated. If, for instance, you are writing a philosophy essay of the compare and contrast variety then your topic may read, “In J.P. Sartre and A. Camus, the Question of Freedom and the Heritage of Literature.”  

Important Points for Consideration

The process of drafting an outline will help clarify which pieces of information to include. An outline helps identify main points, ideas, and topics and it allows you organize these in as concise and brief a manner as possible. 

It is possible to divide outlines into two types i.e. by topic and by sentences. The topic type of outline means writing general and short phrases, a method that lends more flexibility to your outline. Therefore, when you use this outline to write your essay, you can easily make content changes. The sentence-type outline means creating an outline that is more complex and detailed, and with full sentences. 

Take time to create an outline that has plenty detail because devoting time to it means less effort when it comes to writing the essay itself. 

Not only will an outline help you decide what you should write, but it will even influence the paper’s length. This should prove useful if your word limit is tight. A good outline can actually mean that all you have to do later is fill in the gaps. 

Frequent Mistakes in Outline Writing

  • Hurrying to get the research and organization of information complete without properly establishing the topic and purpose of the essay.
  • Creating outlines as a type of short essay. An outline is a plan, scheme, or framework for an as yet unwritten essay, not a miniature essay. Think of it as blank spaces to be filled in later.
  • Do your best to include every piece of information from the research stage, first in your outline and later in your essay. Do not be afraid to remove any information that is irrelevant.

Procrastinating or delaying the outline writing stage, and then attempting to write both your outline and essay in a short timeframe. This will lead, in the best case, to a poor-quality outline and a low-grade essay, or you just will not succeed in completing both tasks.

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