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How to Create a Strong Essay Outline

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

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

1. Know where you’re going

Don’t write a word until you’ve read your essay prompt thoroughly and noted the key words and questions. This will help make sure you're fully understanding the assignment and not leaving anything out.

Once you feel confident that you understand what’s being asked, it’s time to review your notes and brainstorm. Before you can start outlining, you’ll want to have a general idea of your main point (your thesis statement) and your primary supporting arguments to back it up.

2. Start With the Basics

Plan to include these main sections in your outline as starting points:

  • The introduction, including a thesis statement that summarizes your overall argument and your main supporting arguments.
  • The body, with main points supporting your thesis. Your outline points for the body of the essay will eventually become the topic sentences of each body paragraph throughout the essay.
  • The conclusion, which should reiterate your main points without simply restating them (unfortunately, writing “In conclusion …” and then just restating your thesis often isn’t seen as persuasive enough). Try to clearly demonstrate how your ideas fit together or why the argument you’re making is meaningful. Consider your thesis, then ask yourself, “Why is this important?” You’ll expand that idea into a few sentences to wrap up your essay.

3. Get detailed

Next, you’ll want to outline two or more minor points under each of your main points. These outline points will act as your supporting arguments and, again, can serve as topic sentences for the paragraphs throughout your essay.

Outlining these points can help you make sure you’re organizing your information logically, which will save you time rewriting or moving sections around later.

This is where you will bring in specific examples, attributed statistics and quotations, and all your other supporting evidence. For the purposes of your outline, list these minor points briefly, but in your essay, use them to show the depth of your knowledge. Outlining these points can help you make sure you’re organizing your information logically, which will save you time rewriting or moving sections around later.

Once your outline is complete, your job will simply be to weave all the pieces together in a more formal and detailed way. It may not be as fun as building with Legos, but you’ll be surprised at how much more easily the final essay comes together.

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Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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