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Creating an Essay Outline – How to Structure Your Paper Properly

You’ve come up with a brilliant essay topic. You’ve been researching and researching, you know all the details you want your paper to contain, and yet you are unable to write down even one sentence. You know exactly what you want to achieve, but you have no plan of action. This is why crafting a good outline is essential when writing an essay.

An outline is the ideal tool to connect your ideas, organize your thinking and find a coherent, convincing way to present your material. But how do you go about it?

The Basics

To start with, keep in mind that the exact structure and content of your composition will depend on the specific type of essay you need to write, but all essays must have an introduction, body and conclusion. Now that we have this covered, the first steps you need to take to write your outline is to establish the essay’s purpose, determine your audience, develop a thesis and start researching (if necessary and if you haven’t done it already).

Your outline should begin with a thesis statement or a clear sentence that summarizes the main idea of your essay. After you’ve developed your thesis and done your research, start brainstorming for ideas to write in your essay. Don’t be afraid to put on paper anything that comes to your mind at this point, as you can always revise or remove what doesn’t fit later.


Once you have a nice list of items and ideas for your paper, it is time to group the ones that are connected to each other into categories and subcategories. Don’t worry too much about the groups’ order now – simply concentrate on organizing your material logically. Once you have your ideas nicely grouped together, you can focus on finding a good, rational order.

The introduction will usually contain the thesis statement or summarizing sentence and shortly introduce the main points of your essay, the body will develop each point in a coherent manner, while the conclusion will either reiterate your main argument, present the results, outcomes or implications, or talk about solutions or future steps.

Numbering an Labeling

Now that you have everything well organized, you should properly number and label your categories, to get a better visual representation of your essay. Come up with a clear, relevant sentence, phrase or word for each of your categories and subcategories. If your outline will be graded as well, don’t mix all styles in there – either choose only sentence labeling or phrase/word labeling.

As for numbering, you can either use an alphanumeric format or a decimal outline. The alphanumeric style uses letters and numbers to subdivide your categories – the hierarchy looks like this: I, A, 1, a), (1), (a). The decimal format is quite similar, but uses only numbers for subdivisions (1, 1.1,1.1.1 etc.), showing a clearer image of how all categories and subcategories are related. Here’s an example:

1. Topic1
1.1 Subtopic 1
1.1.1 Argument 1
1.1.2 Argument 2
1.2 Subtopic 2
1.2.1 Argument 1
1.2.2 Argument 2
2. Topic 2
2.1 Subtopic 1
2.1.1 Argument 1
2.1.2 Argument 2

… and so on.

As you can see, it’s really not that of a big deal to craft a good, well-structured outline – spending a bit more time to put together a general plan will make writing your essay a lot easier and will lead to much better results in the end.

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