Aiming for the big ‘A’ on that next essay? Well guess what—winging it without an essay outline is just not an option!
By now, you’ve probably made plans in one form or another. You’ve marked quizzes and paper due dates on a calendar. Maybe you’ve put together a surprise birthday party for your friend. Thinking about setting a wedding date with your significant other? Now you’re really talking about planning.
But why do we plan? What makes us set a schedule for a series of events ahead of time? In this post, I’ll answer these questions and focus on why outlining your papers is a vital part of the writing process.
Then you’ll get the chance to access some awesome essay outline templates to help you start writing a well-planned and strongly organized paper that wows your professor.
Planning Saves Lives … or Grades
Okay, so your freshman analysis paper on gender roles in 50 Shades of Grey may not win a Pulitzer or change anybody’s life. But if you don’t outline your paper, you’re probably heading for a crash.
Speaking of crashes, think about something you probably do on a daily basis, driving—or riding in—a car. A lot of planning went into that machine to make it work and get you safely from point A to point B.
If the engineers hadn’t carefully blueprinted all the working parts and how they fit together, then that car wouldn’t run at all. Essays are similar. An unplanned essay that isn’t outlined usually won’t pass your professor’s inspection and just gets you nowhere.
An essay outline denotes how you’ll structure your paper. You can (and should!) make changes along the way. But you want to get everything written down so that you can refer to the outline while you’re writing your rough draft.
If you start out with a good idea of how your paper will function and transition between ideas and paragraphs, then you’ll stay on track and avoid writing yourself into a corner.
Beware the corners—this is what happens when you get to a point in your paper and feel like you have run out of ideas or have no place else to go. Don’t let this happen to you—plan ahead!
Got It–But How Do I Start?
Good time management skills definitely don’t hurt. But just like your paper won’t write itself, your essay is going nowhere if you don’t sit down and start working on that outline.
But maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve composed an outline, and some forms are better than others. No worries—instead of starting from scratch, we’ve got you covered with these templates. You just have to fill in the blanks and keep moving forward!
That said, it’s a good idea to think about the process behind writing a paper before moving forward with your outline. Most papers—like most cars—have the same basic working parts.
You usually need a thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, body paragraphs that follow a logical order and support that thesis, and a conclusion that wraps it all up.
And though most essay have those same working parts, there are different types of essays. Each one requires a different approach to outlining. So without further ado …
7 Super-Awesome Essay Outline Templates
1. Analytical essay outline
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This outline template can help you pick apart a topic and support your thesis so well that your professor’s jaw will drop. An analytical essay isn’t a summary—it requires you to concentrate on how a book or poem was written, why a song was composed, what themes are prevalent in a movie, and why that matters.
You come up with an answer and then explain why you’re right. This template covers the basics and narrows the focus, so you can write a killer thesis statement and use strong evidence to support your claim.
2. Argumentative essay outline
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Nearly all college students will write an argumentative essay, so steel yourself and get ready to create a powerful outline. In this type of essay, you’ll try to persuade your readers that your thoughts on a given topic are the right ones.
But unlike a persuasive essay, you’ll have to do some solid research and back up your ideas with hard facts. This is a great template to guide you through writing your intro, developing your argument, refuting your opponent’s arguments, and bringing your essay over the finish line with the conclusion.
In an argument essay, you must consider the opposing side(s). This handy template will also show you how to tackle the best of them.
3. Compare and contrast essay outline
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A compare and contrast essay takes two subjects and focuses on their similarities and differences. Sounds easy, right? Wait—there’s more!
Like all good essays, this one also serves a larger purpose—maybe you’re trying to state something unknown, clear up a misunderstanding, or show that one topic is better than another.
This template can help you reach these goals using the point-by-point comparison method. Check it out.
4. Expository essay outline
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Do you like helpful advice? Me too. That’s what you get with this awesome expository essay template. An expository essay is kind of like a book report. Your teacher makes you write one of these to show that you’ve aptly researched a topic.
Though there are many ways to organize this type of essay, start with this outline, and you’ll be in good shape. It will help you explain your topic using facts, evidence, and analysis—all of which will help you showcase the larger significance at hand.
5. Persuasive essay outline
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Prove it to me. A persuasive essay’s goal is to convince your readers that your viewpoint is the right one. It’s kind of like an argument essay, except that you don’t have to use well-researched facts in order to support your thesis. You can focus on emotional anecdotes and stories to convince your reader that you’re 100% correct.
This is a great outline template that really delivers from intro to conclusion. Need to define your audience and lay down your best hook? Look no further than this stellar template.
6. Reflective essay outline
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In a reflective essay, you get to recall an event, object, or person that helped you become who you are today. This is a fun essay to write because all the material for it exists in your own head. You don’t have to research or argue. You simply offer the reader a meaningful glimpse into your life.
These essays don’t have to be serious—just ask David Sedaris—but there are good and bad ways to write them. Never fear—this template is here to guide you in setting up your hook, descriptive body paragraphs, and an impactful conclusion.
7. Research essay outline
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Research essays are beastly—they’re longer than most papers to start. They also typically require more effort because you’re gathering sources and revealing what experts are saying about your topic. But this type of essay is cool because it helps you sharpen both your writing skills and knowledge about a topic.
So learn something, and slay that research essay beast by starting with the best weapon. This template will help you put a framework to your ideas—covering the thesis, context, and history behind your topic, the existing arguments, and why the topic/research matters.
From Outline to Essay
Outlining your essay before you begin writing it has so many advantages. It’s easier to change and reorganize a few points on a page than doing the same for large paragraphs in a rough draft.
Outlines save you time and provide peace of mind when it comes to writing papers. Even when you’re putting words to the page, you can always refer back to an outline to keep you on the right track and avoid getting stuck in one of those scary corners we talked about.
Want to win the essay-writing race? Then make a habit of outlining your essays from now on.
Sometimes it just helps to see how others have tackled essays in the past. Check out some of these great example essays from the Kibin database to inspire your next trip down essay-writing lane.
Now you’re ready to rev your outline-writing engine. Kick your typing into gear, and drive that paper from point A to point B with a well-organized structure that’ll show your professor you know what’s what.
And don’t forget—your Kibin pit crew is standing by to proofread that next paper to make sure it runs like a dream when you’re ready to turn it in.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University