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The Essay Outline

A good essay begins with the outline. This page shows how you can quickly create outlines for assigned essays and in-class exams. Sample outline examples are included.

The Essay Outline: "Pre-Writing"
Outlining is useful because it allows you to organize your thoughts in on paper. Seeing how your paper will look before starting can prevent you from staring at your screen for hours. In addition, outlining gives you the opportunity to test how your ideas sound before you put them to paper.

This article works best for argumentative essays, however you can outline your thoughts for any assignment.

To make a simple outline, write the topic sentence, or the first sentence of your paragraph, next to each section.

Sample Essay Outline
For example, let's say you had to write an essay about Homer's Odyssey and want to prove that Odysseus is a hero. Start with your thesis:

I. In Homer's Odyssey, while Odysseus has many negative characteristics, he is still a hero because he fights for his crew, overcomes many challenges, and is changed for the better by his journey.

Note that your thesis itself is like a roadmap, explaining where your paper is specifically going to go. Next, introduce your body paragraphs.

II. Odysseus' leadership skills prove he is a man admired by both mortals and gods alike.
III. Odysseus, like any hero, proves victorious against challenges that would have killed a normal person.
IV. If a hero takes something from his journey, than Odysseus' change by the end of the Odyssey puts him among legends. Now you can introduce a counterargument, or rebuttal paragraph. (Alternatively, you can place this paragraph after your thesis. You can learn more about rebuttal paragraphs here).
V. Some people argue that while Odysseus has heroic qualities, his philandering ways and reliance on the gods does not make him a true hero. Finally, after addressing the counterargument, you can lay out a concluding sentence.
VI. While he is far from perfect, Odysseus' journey reveals that a true hero always has it within himself to accomplish what others think impossible.

Expand Your Outline
You can also expand your outline to include quotes, references, background or whatever else you need to get yourself thinking about the topic.


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