How to Write an Essay Outline: Templates and Examples

October 24, 2023
2 min read

Looking for an outline for an essay to help you with an upcoming assignment? Don’t worry; we’ll give you everything you need to know about essay outlines!

Female student writing in notebook in front of coomputer

Students take all kinds of classes throughout their academic careers. They learn about the basic principles of the world in science, how we got to where we are today in history, and how to dissect an Elizabethan-timed soliloquy reading Shakespeare in English.

While subjects differ drastically in the topics they teach, you can bet that they all rely on students interpreting material to analyze and reach a conclusion with. Non-quantitative subjects, like psychology, history, and English, often require students to format their arguments in various essays.

But how do you go about starting an essay? Well, a key area that students often neglect is looking into outline examples for essays. Having a scaffold to support your arguments and research means you’ll be able to focus on writing without getting distracted. Ideally, you’ll experience an extended writing flow state without any writer’s block.

If streamlining the writing process and making things easier for yourself sounds appealing, then keep reading for the outline tips you need!

What Is an Essay Outline?

An essay outline is a brief snapshot into the structure of your essay. It’s often informal and mostly written without an intended audience other than the essay author. An outline will state the main points that are being established throughout your essay and how they’re being supported.

Essays rely on internal logic to be effective. Think of essay outlines as a method of laying out the flow of your essay, especially making note of how the arguments reinforce one another. A good outline will provide effective points that tie back to your thesis. 

You may also be requested by your teacher to make an outline so they can provide feedback. This is a good way to get advice when you’re starting out writing essays or writing about more complicated topics. That way, you’ll be able to start writing good essays in no time.

Typical Parts of an Essay

Although essay structure does vary depending on the kind of essay, there are a few universals across the writing format. Virtually all essays begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. The body paragraphs that support the central theme vary in length, quantity, and structure.

Ideally, the introductory paragraph should give the reader a cursory overview of the arguments that support your thesis, which is the central theme unifying the text. A line to hook your audience can also make for a more compelling essay.

In the conclusion, you’ll want to briefly summarize the points you made throughout the body paragraphs. Furthermore, any closing thoughts you have or final ideas you’d like to leave the reader with can be discussed here.

Steps for Writing an Essay Outline

Writing an essay template doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming. With the right steps and planning, you can not only save yourself a great deal of time but also write more persuasive content. The ins and outs of writing an essay outline follow multiple steps. Here are some things to think about:

Step One: Develop a Thesis

The first and most important step before beginning your essay outline is to try to determine a thesis that captures the core of what you’re arguing. Without a thesis, any arguments made in the body paragraphs don’t have a central theme to support. In this case, it can be easy to get off topic or even inadvertently argue against your thesis.

Step Two: Prioritize Research

You’ve no doubt come across a ton of ideas and thought of different arguments to make during your time planning for your essay (or checking out what SparkNotes had to say if it’s last minute). Regardless, a decision has to be made as to what the strongest arguments that support your thesis are.

An extra tip: don’t discard points that go against your thesis! These can be collected and used to dispel counter arguments in your essay. Articulating persuasive viewpoints means tackling objections head-on and giving a more compelling argument. Also, make sure you’re understanding everything you’re reading before writing about it.

Step Three: Structure Body Paragraphs

The exact structure and contents of the body paragraphs within an essay can change depending on the essay format. Generally, each body paragraph should focus on a supporting argument that defends your thesis. In a sense, each body paragraph comprises a mini-thesis that aligns with the overall goals of the essay as a whole.

One approach is to give one or two pieces of evidence that reinforce the body paragraph’s argument. These could come from research you had done on your topic beforehand or from a primary source that’s being discussed. Alternatively, you could include any counter arguments that directly go against the body paragraph’s stance.

Another common pitfall students make is including body paragraphs that are too similar to one another. In order to give the most compelling arguments, you should ideally be tackling your subject matter from all angles. Including a variety of opinions ensures that your essay encompasses many diverging views, making your thesis more compelling.

Student typing on laptop

Essay Outline Examples

A standard essay can be written in a five-paragraph structure. Certain essays, such as expository essays, work well with this outline. In this case, you’d want to include an introductory paragraph that clearly states your thesis. This is followed by three supporting body paragraphs. Finally, a conclusion is used to wrap everything up.

As with the steps for writing an essay outline, you’ll always want to include an introduction and conclusion, no matter what kind of essay you’re writing. To determine the structure of the body paragraphs, consider looking at what research you’ve done on the topic and what would make the most sense for the essay you’re writing.

Essay Outline Template

A rough outline template for an essay can include all the features from your outline. When dealing with five-paragraph essays, you can format a rough template with a few basic categories. A common template taught in college-level English looks something like this

  • Introduction paragraph
  • Body paragraph one
  • Body paragraph two
  • Body paragraph three
  • Conclusion paragraph 

Although this isn’t the only way to structure an essay, having some kind of template will make the writing process as easy as possible. When you have to interrupt your writing with research, you’ll find it makes it harder to write concisely, establish points, and transition between them.


Still have questions concerning essay outlines and templates? Check out our expert answers below for more insight!

1. How Can I Think of What to Write for My Essay?

A big sticking point for students is getting started with their essays. More often than not, students envision the writing process as a seamless block of time where academically studious peers complete their essays in a single session. This could not be further from the truth.

Writing is a responsive process more than anything. This means that without adequate research, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to have topics to write about or think of. That’s not to say essay writing is completely linear. You’ll likely need to go back and consult your research to revise arguments. However, a gradual progression is usually followed.

Don’t forget a non-linear process can actually help you generate ideas for your essay. Certain essay-writing tips, such as expanding on your thesis and using temporary subheadings, can help generate crucial concepts to communicate your arguments.

2. What’s the Point of Writing Essays?

Although it may seem like pointless homework, writing essays develops fundamental skills that enable you to function and excel in society. Sure, you may be wondering how writing about the whaling in Moby Dick is going to come in handy in life ten years from now. The real key is the linguistic and logical neural pathways being developed.

Essay writing is quite different from prose writing. There is a certain structure where sound logic matters. You can’t simply come up with a thesis and talk about irrelevant points that do no help defending it. The logic required to draw conclusions from research and literary works is a skill that needs to be practiced.

Being able to defend arguments in widely different settings requires critical thinking. Not everyone can come up with an essay on the spot. It takes time to develop the thinking process behind the writing in order to make logically consistent arguments. Fortunately, anyone can develop their talents with the right practice and determination to get better.

Final Thoughts

Writing essays is an involved process. If you’re just starting out and haven’t perfected your writing regimen, then doing a bit of planning can make all the difference in your final draft. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing writer’s block, it can be a good idea to go back and consult your outline for your essay.

There may be several different kinds of topics to write about. Almost all non-quantitative classes have written components, and essays make up a large bulk of that. What all effective essay writing has in common is clearly articulated thoughts, with the reader easily understanding what message is being conveyed.

No one starts out writing perfect essays with ease, but the more often you write, the better you’ll get at the process. The most important thing to take away from essay writing is to give yourself a bit of review, especially a few months later. Give it a read with fresh eyes and see how you can improve for next time.

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