How to Create a Strong Essay Outline

Need help jumpstarting your writing process? Here's why composing an outline is key.

Varsity Tutors, as read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #569

Imagine you have a box full of Legos, but no photo or instruction manual to guide you. You may be able to connect those blocks into something decent on your own, but without knowing the end goal, chances are you’ll end up with a plastic clunker rather than a Batmobile.

The same goes for writing your next essay: You probably have plenty of ideas, notes, and readings to draw from—but if you don’t know what order you’re putting them in, you may end up with a sloppy result. With essay writing, the equivalent to your Lego instruction manual is an outline. Creating an outline before you start writing not only will make the writing process easier, you’re likely to end up with a stronger, more cohesive essay when you're finished.

Why Outline?

First, why exactly is creating an outline important? It keeps your thoughts organized and will help you avoid repeating or forgetting key points as you write. Second, you’ll be getting the most important and difficult parts of essay writing figured out early —creating a thesis statement and deciding on your key points. This will help keep you focused when you do start writing, and it will lower the risk that you’ll waste time going off on tangents in your essay.

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And don’t tell yourself, “I don’t have time to do an outline.” Creating an outline can actually save you time in the long run! Yes, it takes time to make the outline at first, and it’s not always an easy process. But you’ll get that time back later because you’ll be able to write the essay more efficiently and make fewer major revisions.

What to Include in Your Outline

To polish your outlining skills, try following this three-step process:


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