Writing an Effective Essay Outline | A Complete Guide

Writing an Effective Essay Outline | A Complete Guide

Are you having trouble completing your writing assignments? Maybe you do not know how to organize your work, and you struggle to structure it. If you write without including an essay outline, you risk getting confused and missing out on important points. This article will teach you how to write an outline so you don’t dread writing anymore.

What is an essay outline?

This is a briefly drafted write-up that helps you plan your research paper. Your outline for expository essay includes all the main points and ideas you collect from different sources. All the points are arranged and structured into paragraphs to ensure you have enough information for all your ideas.

Even though writing an outline is not mandatory, it is important that you do it. It is an important planning tool in the writing process. In some cases, your professor might ask you to submit an outline that summarizes your paper before the final copy.

Why is an essay outline important?

Writing an elaborate outline is important because;

  • You will understand the flow of information and be able to structure it
  • You can write your paper better and faster as it acts as a blueprint of your document
  • It helps you organize your thoughts and ideas and note them down
  • You will avoid missing any important points as you write your essay because they are all captured in your outline
  • Using your outline, you will know which points go into which section of your paper to avoid repetition
  • An outline increases your understanding of the essay content and paragraph structures
  • You can use your outline for presentation in front of an audience since it shows you where all the information is

Outlining structure styles

There are two common formats used to create an outline. This is in terms of sectioning and numbering. They are;

Alphanumeric structure style

This structure is considered the easiest and most formal essay outline structure. Under this structure, you create subdivisions of the content. Use roman, alphabetic, and Arabic numbering systems to number the subdivisions. This is how each numbering format is used;

  • Roman numbers (I, II, III) are used to label major sections, each number represents a paragraph on the paper
  • Alphabets(a, b, c) are used to number points within each paragraph or section
  • Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3) are used to label the finer details under each point in the paragraphs

Decimal structure style

In this style, you only use the Arabic numbering system, and a decimal separates each numeric. This structure is a clear format of numbering that is easy to remember. It is a multilevel numbering format that is often used in writing a case study. This is how it works;

  • First level numbering (1.0, 2.0, 3.0) label the first main point within a section like introduction, body, or conclusion
  • Second level numbering (1.1, 3.4, 4.2) is used to number the sub points under each major point of the essay
  • Third level numbering such as 4.3.1 indicates the point number 1 is under the subtopic number 3, which is under main point 4

Essay outline writing process

Before writing an outline, you need to consider several factors. These factors determine the general course of your paper and the kind of research you will do. Some of them include;

  • Make sure you read and understand the type of essay, the instructions, and how long your essay should be
  • Come up with a purpose for your essay, whether it is to educate, entertain or persuade the readers to determine your writing technique
  • Identify your reader to know how to approach the topic. If a stranger read your essay, would they understand your argument?
  • Because your entire paper relies on it, you should come up with a thesis statement before you start researching

Once you have completed these tasks, you are ready to begin researching and formulating an outline. The general format of your outline should follow the introduction, body, and conclusion order you will use in your essay.

Remember that your essay outline is like a summary of your research paper. In your body section, you should number each point clearly and include citations.

Here is a step by step guide on writing an outline;


  • The first sentence should introduce the topic, use anecdotes and interesting facts to intrigue your readers
  • Briefly give the background information of your topic
  • Conclude your introduction by stating your thesis statement and declare your argument

If you use technical terms in your paper, include their definitions in the introduction.


In each paragraph, write your main point and back it up with facts, data, and supporting information. Do not forget to include citations and number each paragraph and its subsequent points. Finish each paragraph with a concluding statement. Using transitional sentences will help you create a good flow.


Restate your thesis statement in your essay outline conclusion. You should remind your reader of the key points of your essay and finish it with a concluding statement.

Closing remarks

Do not downplay the importance of an outline in your writing assignment. Creating an outline is not a hard task, provided you have the right structure. This article has equipped you with knowledge on how to write an effective essay outline. You can now earn good grades on your research paper with ease by creating an outline first.

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