Essay Outline: How to Write a Good Outline for an Academic Paper?

Essay Outline: How to Write a Good Outline for an Academic Paper?

Published by on 2021-06-30 11:49:06

Writing an essay without an outline is near to impossible. Those students who choose to work without it set their workup for failure. Perhaps, it won’t fail completely. However, it will cost those students quite a big chunk of their grades. There is a good reason why it can happen. A good academic piece requires proper organization. You have to conduct extensive research and put in a beautiful, wholesome piece. 

More often than not, the process of writing a paper can turn into a complete mess within an instant. To prevent such a thing from happening, a student needs to create a solid guide for themselves. Such a guide will help them organize their thoughts and ideas. It will also help them create logical transactions between chapters, sections, and paragraphs. A guide like this will create an easy flow of thoughts and help notice any weak spots or poorly developed ideas in the plan. 

So whenever you wonder, “What is an outline for an essay?” It's this guide. Once you learn how to make it, you’ll learn how to structure and organize your essay in an effective and comprehensive manner. However, in order to do that, you have to understand its role and purpose for your paper. Let’s learn more about it. 

What Is an Essay Outline

An essay outline is basically a brief plan of your future paper. Depending on the type of paper, it will vary in its structure and overall look. So it would be hard to answer, “what does an essay outline look like?” as there can be at least several versions of its general appearance. However, overall it should look like a brief plan of your future work. It must include all the main points that you are going to cover in your text. It should also reflect the structure of your future essay, considering whether the essay is comparison, defenitionreflectivethematics, descriptive or even position one.

Don’t confuse it with a draft, though, as many students tend to make such a mistake. A draft is a piece of writing that consists of all your thoughts, plans, desires, and ideas. It is not structured or organized. Instead, it is only a collection of possible ways to go when it comes to your current assignment. The ideas in a draft can be vague and expansive as you are only considering all your possibilities. 

An outline, on the other hand, must be concise and straight to the point. It has to include only the thoughts and ideas that will be present in your essay. It should also distribute all your main arguments into the paragraphs. Overall, this project aims to note all the important information and organize it in a logical manner. Hence, this way, you won’t forget any detail and remember the sequence of all your ideas. 

Why Write an Outline for an Essay

Some students may feel reluctant to make an outline for a paper. It takes time, effort, and energy that they would rather spare for some other tasks. However, once you understand the purpose of doing it, you’ll never skip over this part again. Believing that this stage of your writing is optional is quite a mistake. In truth, a good essay outline is a necessity that will help you achieve the highest grades. By dedicating some time to this task, you’ll significantly facilitate your further work.  

Having a proper structure for your paper before you start writing can make all the difference in the world. Let’s recall. What is outlining in writing? It is a chance to see a narrowed-down version of your future work. You get to see the structure of the entire text as well as each paragraph in particular. You’ll also have an easier time understanding your flow of thought, as you can organize it better. What’s more, it helps you to go through the whole assignment as stress-free as possible. Having a clear plan before you start a paper will help you stay calm and concentrated. Thus, as you can see, such a map can serve you as a perfect tool for completing a coherent and effective essay. 

How to Make an Outline for an Essay

Once you understand the purpose of this work, it’s time to learn more about how you can do it. Mastering this task on the first try is quite a challenge. However, as long as you follow a few basic steps, you should be fine. Those steps will be accurate for the majority of cases since most academic papers follow a standard five-paragraph structure. Hence, your outline’s format won’t change much. Here is what you must consider in your work.

The First Steps (What to Do Before)

Before you start writing pretty much anything, you have to complete a lot of work. First and foremost, re-read your assignment and make sure you fully understand it. Whenever you are given a paper to write, you have to understand the purpose and specifics of each essay type. Thus, when you need to complete a descriptive essay, it will look different from a research paper. You have to make sure you understand the difference between them before you start to outline your future work.

Next, you have to choose a topic and do your research on it. Before you even think of starting to write, you have to give all the necessary information for your work. Hence, you have to collect enough information, data, statistics, and everything else required to complete a proper academic assignment. So before moving on to your next step, you have to know what your paper is about and how you want to present it. You must feel comfortable in the theme of your work and have a clear idea of where you are going with it. Once this stage of your work is complete, you can think of ways to organize. 

Make sure you have defined a clear and strong thesis statement. Your thesis statement is the key to the entire work. Every paragraph has to relate to the thesis you state early on in the introduction. Hence, you can’t start your work on the outline before you are sure about your thesis statement.

Choose the Right Structure

The organization of all your thoughts and data into an effective plan can be the hardest part of your assignment. Luckily, most academic writing assignments follow the traditional five-paragraph structure, which includes an introduction, main body, and conclusion. It is called a five paragraph structure. However, a writer gets to decide how long their main body will be, depending on the required word count or the volume of research. However, there shouldn’t be less than three of them. 

Your first paragraph must introduce readers to the theme of your paper. It has to have a background and thesis statement. Next, your main body will be the largest part of your work. This section must include main arguments, sources that defend your ideas, judgments, etc. The nature of the main body will depend on the type of assignment you are doing. Each paragraph of the main body should have the same structure. Also, they all must have a logical and smooth transition. At last, you should end with a concluding paragraph where you evaluate your work and restate your thesis. 


Once you have decided on the structure and type of your essay, you can move on to formatting. Here is the traditional essay outline format:

  1. Introduction
  2. Main body 
    1. First paragraph
      1. State your main idea.
      2. Elaborate.
      3. Conclude.
    2. Second paragraph 
      1. State your main idea.
      2. Elaborate.
      3. Conclude.
    3. Third paragraph 
      1. State your main idea.
      2. Elaborate.
      3. Conclude.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Summarize.
    2. Recall your thesis statement.
    3. Conclude.

The structure of your outline will always vary depending on the type of your paper. However, a perfect example of a term paper outline will have the same format as we had just demonstrated above. So, let’s have a closer look at the main body paragraphs, as here is where the main difference will happen once you are writing different essay types. 

A good main body paragraph will have one topic sentence. This is the line that carries the main idea or argument. Next, it will always have a sentence or two that will elaborate on that idea, providing evidence, data, or other supporting arguments. At last, you should end with how this main idea is related to the thesis statement and why it is important for this essay. 

Final Tips 

Remember that more often than not, you are the only one who is looking at your outline unless you have to give it for evaluation to your teacher. Hence, it’s important that you could read and understand it. To do this work well, you have to state the main arguments in your paper clearly. You need to define them in one sentence or less. Since probably no one but you will read your outline, you can think less of how others can understand it and more about how it can serve you better. Hence, you can cut straight to the point and write in a way that is most convenient to you. 

Repeat the same tactics with every next line in your work to the very end. Overall, each point in your plan should have a maximum of two sentences at best. However, those points should reveal the main ideas and arguments centered in that paragraph. 

An Outline Template

Let’s assume we need to write a research paper on how meditation benefits our mental health. Here’s how the outline for such a paper will look like:

Mediation benefits mental health


Thesis statement: mediation has a positive impact on mental health.

Main body

Body paragraph 1

Topic sentence: Meditation can reduce stress levels.

  • Detail  1: By meditating, a person decreases their blood pressure that helps with stress.
  • Detail  2: By meditating, you address stress factors that reduce their influence on your mental state. 

Body paragraph 2

Topic sentence: Meditation reduces anxiety. 

  • Detail  1: Mediation builds mindfulness which helps fighting anxiety.
  • Detail  2: Meditation develops coping mechanism, such as breathing techniques, to cope with anxiety

Body paragraph 3

Topic sentence: Meditation leads to a positive self-image

  • Detail  1:Mediation is a self-care practice that helps people to treat themselves with kindness.
  • Detail  2: Meditation teaches people to take their mental health seriously.


  • Summarize arguments
  • Address the thesis statement