How to Write an Essay Outline for College

How to write an essay outline for college step by step

Step 1: Choose the topic of your essay

This entails understanding the essay prompt or essay question. Take time to read and understand the essay question so that you can know what exactly the instructor wants you to write in your essay. Determine the best topic for your essay. If any aspect of the essay question is unclear, seek clarification from the instructor to save time. After understanding the essay question, think about the perspective that you will take in your essay and form a thesis statement around your perspective. For instance, what will you try to prove through the essay? Your thesis statement should include your subject or topic and your point of view.

Step 2: List your main ideas

After understanding the essay question and developing a thesis statement, list down the main ideas that you intend to use in supporting your thesis. Remember that your thesis statement is your core argument and you should support it with logical evidence. Therefore, consider the main points that you have for supporting your thesis carefully. Your main ideas will become the paragraphs of the body of your essay once you start writing it. Make sure that you have adequate materials for supporting your main ideas.

Step 3: Find proof

Take time to find adequate materials to support each main idea that you have listed in your outline. You can get material from your text or secondary sources. The material that you use to support your main ideas will form the details of your body paragraphs since each main idea will be a body paragraph on its own.

Step 4: Write the conclusion

The conclusion should confirm the stated thesis statement. Also ensure that your conclusion restates instead of repeating the main ideas in a different way.

Step 5: Check your outline

Before you jump into writing your essay using the outline that you have created, check the outline while asking the following questions:

  • Have you selected a topic for your essay after reading and understanding what the instructor expects you to write?
  • Will the outline enable you to communicate the information that the instructor wants you to convey through your essay?
  • Have you created a properly thought-out thesis statement that will enable you to present the point that you intend to prove through your essay effectively?
  • Is there a viewpoint or argument that you are trying to prove? Do your main ideas enable you to prove that viewpoint or argument?
  • What are you trying to do through the essay? To explain how to perform a particular task? To educate or to information your reader? Does this come out clearly in your outline?
  • Does your outline show how ideas relate with each other and thesis statement or topic of your essay?

Your answers to these questions will tell you whether you actually know how to write an essay outline for college and whether you have written an effective essay outline.

Essay outline for college: Elements of an outline

There are certain elements that should come out clearly in your essay outline.

These are:

  • The introduction

The introduction of an essay should come out clearly in the outline. This is usually broad at the beginning but it has a narrow ending which is usually the thesis statement. A thesis statement is clear and specific and it tells readers what the essay is all about.

  • Body paragraphs

The body paragraphs comprise the main ideas of the essay and their supporting evidence. The body of a good essay should have at least three paragraphs or main ideas and their supporting evidence. The evidence can be statistics or examples.

  • Topic sentences

Topic sentences are usually the first sentences that state the main ideas in the body paragraphs. They introduce the main idea that is discussed in each body paragraph.

  • Support

This is the evidence that is used to support the main ideas. Support can be in form of data, analysis, facts, anecdotes, details, examples and quotes among others. These support the topic sentences and they form the flesh of the body of an essay.

  • Conclusion

This wraps up the essay and no new information should be introduced in the conclusion. Its sentences should summarize the points made in the body of the essay while restating the thesis statement.

Additional tips on how to write an essay outline for college

Basically, there are two types of essay outlines. There is a sentence outline and a topic outline. A sentence outline comprises of full sentences. Usually, it is used when the focus of an essay is on complex details. It is useful because the sentences provide important details which makes including them in an essay possible. A topic outline is made of short phrases. It is useful when dealing with different issues that are easy to arrange in different ways.

Here are quick tips that will make writing either of the outlines easier:

  • Gather relevant information for writing your essay after identifying the topic

Identifying a topic for your essay should be your first step in writing an essay outline. This should be followed by gathering the necessary information or materials for writing your essay. The information that you collect should be summed up by the topic that you chose for your essay. This will enable you to come up with a focused essay.

  • Identify the major categories of your information

Before you start developing an outline for your essay, identify the main points in the information that you have gathered. All your main points should be introduced by the introduction. List the categories of the main points in the order in which you will present them in your essay starting with the most important or the strongest point.

  • Develop categories

Start with the first category and develop it under the first point. Include what will be covered by the main category. For instance, if the point centers on a complicated term, you can start with its definition. If it is a theory, start by defining it and providing contextual information about it.

  • Create subcategories

Once you have stated the main points in different categories, create subcategories under them using the supporting materials that you gathered during your research. Make sure that your subcategories include materials or information that supports the main points only. The number of the categories and subcategories to include in your outline depends on the amount of data or information that you intend to present and the requirements of your essay question.

Use a sample outline to know how to write an essay outline for college

To master the steps of writing an outline, it is important that you use a sample outline.

Here is a sample outline that you can use as your writing guide:

Topic: Major AIDS Aspects

  1. AIDS transmission
  2. Blood transfusions
  3. Body fluids
  4. Non-sexual
  5. Sexual
  6. Social impacts of AIDS
  7. The pattern of an epidemic disease
  8. Women
  9. Teenagers
  10. Homosexuals
  11. AIDS babies
  12. Overburdened health sector
  13. Increased homophobia
  • Solutions to the AIDS problems realized through research
  1. HIV virus
  2. AZT
  3. Other viruses

From this sample of an essay outline, it is apparent that you can write an essay outline when you are familiar with the topic or subject. As such, once you get your essay writing assignment, conduct some background research before you start writing its outline. Additionally, while writing the essay or as you conduct extensive research or generate new ideas, you may find subtracting, adding or changing the position of your ideas necessary. This is allowed provided that the logical relationship of ideas in your outline is upheld.

How to Write an Essay Outline for College: References

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