Essay Format Tips: How to Outline Your Paper
Proper organization and structure are vital for the success of your essay. A well-formatted outline will help you ensure the logical flow and relevance of your thoughts. Outline your paper in seven easy steps:
- Narrow down your essay topic. Study the literature on your essay subject to choose the aspect that you find the most interesting to discuss. Re-word your topic accordingly.
- State the main goal of your essay. Depending on your essay type, it may be one of the following options: to compare and contrast two things, to determine cause and effect, to analyze a particular subject, to present one side of an argument in order to persuade your readers.
- Think of how you are going to achieve your goal. Pick at least three main areas to explore, or three main arguments to use in your essay. Write them down.
- Browse academic sources for evidence in support of your arguments: facts, quotes, examples, and statistics. Note them down; do not forget to include the Web link or book page number. If you discover any pieces of evidence that seem to contradict your main idea, it is better not to ignore them but to include in your essay as well, explaining why they are wrong or not as strong as to change your opinion.
- Decide on how to arrange your supporting evidence in the way most consistent with your overall purpose. If you are writing an essay about a book, it is a good idea to follow its main storyline. If you are trying to persuade your readers, begin with the strongest piece of evidence that supports your view. Make sure that your arguments naturally flow into one another.
- On the basis of the evidence you have found, determine the logical parts of your essay. They may be slightly different from the main arguments you have listed in Step 3. All parts should be relevant to your topic and be supported by roughly equal amounts of evidence. Your logical parts will form the main points of your essay outline.
- Find pieces of supporting evidence for each main point and write them down as sub-points of your outline. There should be at least two sub-points for each category.
There are two ways of writing an essay outline: in short phrases or in complete sentences. Choose whatever you feel more comfortable with. Mind that the first outline type is more flexible and faster to write, but the second is easier to elaborate on as you get down to actually writing your essay.