How to Write an Outline That Will Earn an A+ Grade

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Having a hard time writing an essay or a research paper? Suffering from “blank page syndrome”? Are you sure you’re doing everything right? You probably are if you know how to write an outline…

But do you?

To many of you, an outline may seem like just another piece of extra work to do, but trust us, it will end up saving you a significant amount of time (another way to save your precious time is to ask for writing essays online, just send us a message!). Before writing any kind of paper, you should think carefully about what you’re going to write about and how you’re going to structure your writing. It’s quite a serious challenge to do both things simultaneously—and that’s where a well-developed outline will save you.

the-outline-basics

The outline basics

Writing an outline can be briefly defined as crafting an overall plan or framework that will be later perfected into a speech or a written paper (though actually it’s helpful to write an outline for a research paper, essay, or even for writing a resume).

What are the main functions of an outline?

  • Organizing your thoughts and making sure no key points are missed
  • Structuring the material presented
  • Putting in order and relating the different parts of the issue to each other
  • Providing the relative importance of every point and aspect of the document

Here’s a tip:

  • Say “No” to writing before you’ve thought carefully.
  • Outline writing will allow you to avoid rambling and wandering around your topic. If you’ve ever been on a hike, you know how easy it is to get lost in an unfamiliar area without a map. This idea is perfectly applicable to writing an outline!

the-outline-structure

The outline structure

The outline structure helps maintain the logical organization of your final document.

So, what are the essential parts?

  • Introduction (containing your thesis statement)
  • Body (providing the argument, pieces of evidence, or relevant examples)
  • Conclusion

Why should you stick to all these points?

It should be constructed this way in order to keep you from losing direction throughout your paper. The right outline will ensure that you properly support your thesis statement with everything you cover in the paper. It will prevent you from going off topic.

Here are some more useful points to keep in mind:

  • List in the outline all the important points you will end up writing in your essay, research paper, or whatever it is you’re working on.
  • Each paragraph should specify just one point. Don’t make the reader rack his brains trying to understand and get to the point.
  • Your introduction is the starting point that describes your overall opinion or statement on the topic. Afterwards, move on point by point, coming to a logical conclusion at the end. All of your paragraphs should be categorized according to their significance.
  • Gather related ideas together in a group under general headings, and arrange them in a way that flows logically. Numbering is a useful tool here, letting you assign more or less weight to the appropriate points and ideas. You can also place minor points off in the margins of the paper according to their decreasing importance.

How does your outline structure help your readers?

Some of you may be thinking: “This is my outline, so I can create my outline the way I consider it to be best.”

That’s right, but if your outline will be read by anyone else, a rigid, clearly organized structure will considerably help your reader.

And here’s why…

The outline allows your reader to:

  • Easily read and quickly perceive the information visually
  • Take a break between sections to think over previous ones
  • Understand signals about changing the focus
  • Catch the logical exposition of the topic

guidelines-for-online-formatting

Guidelines for outline formatting

There are certain rules you should follow in order to make a helpful outline.

So, how do you write an outline? Let’s take a look.

  1. A clear and precise organizational system is essential. The topics should be subdivided by numbers and letters, followed by a period.
  1. Every section (heading/subheading) should consist of at least two entries. For example:
  • If your outline starts with a section under Roman numeral I, it must also include a section labeled Roman numeral II.
  • If you have a capital letter A under category I, there must follow a capital letter B. Then continue with capital letters C, D, E, and so on, depending on how much information you are going to cover.
  1. The major points in the outline correspond to your key ideas, which will be placed in each paragraph’s topic sentence.
  • The first Roman numeral is for the introduction.
  • The next one is for the first body paragraph.
  • The third one is for the second body paragraph. (Use as many body paragraphs as you need to fully support your thesis.)
  • The last one is for your conclusion.
  1. Unique headings are not necessary for the introduction and conclusion. You can simply use the words “Introduction” and “Conclusion.”

Here is a tip:

  • Always be as consistent as possible. Choose the numbering style that you think works best for your paper and stick to it.
  • To avoid confusing yourself or your reader, never mix different types of outline.

examples-of-a-different-online-formats

Examples of different outline formats

topic-outline

  1. Topic outline

Particular features: The headings are words or phrases rather than complete sentences. This outline format is particularly appropriate when dealing with various issues that could be arranged in different ways.

Research essay outline:

Negative Influence of Computer Games on Children

  1. Introduction
    1. Do computer games cause human aggression?
      1. Brief statistical data
      2. The issue of causation
      1. Recent research
        1. Studies "for" computer games
        2. Studies "against" computer games
        1. Evidence “against” outweighs the evidence “for” computer games
  1. Research for
    1. First investigation "for"
      1. Method
      2. Tools
      3. Results
      4. Commenting on the conclusion
      1. Second investigation "for"
        1. Method
        2. Tools
        3. Results
        4. Commenting on the conclusion
  1. Research "Against"
    1. Study "against"
      1. Method
      2. Tools
      3. Results
      4. Commenting on the conclusion
      1. Second study "against"
        1. Method
        2. Tools
        3. Results
        4. Commenting on the conclusion
  1. Conclusion
    1. Questionable results of studies “for”
    2. More evidence from studies “against”
    3. Negative influence of computer games on children proven by research
    4. No further research needed

full-sentence-outline

  1. Full sentence outline

Particular features: The different levels are given in complete sentences.

  • A full sentence outline is usually used when your paper concentrates on complex details. A sentence outline gives you the opportunity to specify details directly in the headings rather than creating a long, confusing outline consisting of many brief phrases.
  • This type of outline is usually accompanied by an APA reference list, provided on a separate page. If you want to include quotes within the outline, use APA in-text citations for that.

Basic essay outline example:

Open Online Libraries Have Changed the Way People Learn Today

    1. Introduction
      1. Online libraries give 24-hour access to global information, making people read more.
      2. There is no need to spend hours at traditional libraries anymore.
      3. Online books can be downloaded and read at any time.
      1. The expansion of online libraries gives more opportunities for self-education.
        1. Statistical data provides evidence about the self-education popularity increase.
        2. Several theories point to the future of global e-learning.
          1. Free online education has multiple effects on qualification levels.
            1. Many industries today lack highly-qualified specialists with solid academic backgrounds.
            2. The quick and simple e-learning process makes people promptly lose their knowledge due to lack of practical training.
              1. Conclusion
                1. Open access presents serious competition to traditional colleges.
                2. E-learning provides great perspectives for people’s level of education.

alfanumeric-outline

  1. Alphanumeric outline

Particular features: This outline format is a mixture of letters and numbers that follow this order:

  • Roman numerals
  • Capitalized letters
  • Arabic numerals
  • Lowercase letters

For even further subdivision, you can use Arabic numerals inside parentheses and then lowercase letters inside parentheses.

An ordinary job application outline sample:

The Job Application Process

          1. Introduction
          1. Find the desired company/employer.
            1. Surf the web to find out more about work conditions.
              1. Check the company’s website.
              2. Find the employers’ references/opinions about the work environment.
              1. Find a vacancy relevant to your professional background.
          1. Send an email with your CV to the targeted employer.
            1. Write a personal address in the email.
              1. Be positive and confident.
              2. Stay clear in stating what you want.
              1. Attach your CV.
              2. Attach recommendation letters (if available).
          1. Prepare for your interview and get the job.
            1. Wait for feedback from HR.
            1. Get ready for the interview.
            1. Review your CV.
            2. Think about possible interview questions and answers.
            1. Pass the interview.
            1. Become an outstanding employee!
      1. Conclusion

decimal-outline

  1. Decimal outline

Particular features: This style of outline is very similar in format to the alphanumeric type. But it's slightly more detailed in that the decimal notation system clearly shows how every level of the outline is related to the larger whole.

A basic essay outline sample:

Modern Tendency for Healthy Lifestyle

    1. Introduction
      1. Importance of health in modern world
        1. Increasing health care level
        2. Quitting bad habits and exercising more
      1. Recent research about healthy life tendency
        1. Past studies’ results
        2. Recent health care studies’ results
    1. Healthy lifestyle benefits
      1. More active lives around the world
        1. Expanding fitness services market
        2. Fewer health issues in sportsmen
      1. Fewer tobacco and alcohol addictions
        1. More reading about cigarettes and alcohol harm
        2. Fewer cases of lung and liver cancer
    1. Conclusion
      1. Obvious increase in popularity healthy lifestyle
      2. Future encouragement of healthy life among young people worldwide

compare-and-contrast-essay-outline

  1. Compare and contrast essay outline

Particular features: This format is characterized by the comparison between several objects, issues, or events, as well as an assessment of their similarities and differences.

A compare and contract essay outline sample:

Compare and Contrast of Print Books and E-books

(block method)

    1. Introduction
      1. Four main differing factors: visual look, tactile feeling, durability, greenness
      2. Growing popularity of e-books
      1. Print books features
        1. Design (available in all sizes and shapes, appealing to people)
        2. Feeling (different weights, textures, and smells)
        3. Durability (may last for centuries)
        4. Greenness (paper-based, electricity-free, recyclable)
        1. E-books features
          1. Design (high-tech, thin)
          2. Feeling (plastic or metal, no “feel”)
          3. Durability (may break or get viruses)
          4. Greenness (paper-free, electricity-based, not recyclable)
          1. Conclusions
            1. Summarizing the similarities
            2. Summarizing the differences
            3. Concluding the importance of topic

Compare and Contract of Print Books and E-books

(point-by-point arrangement)

            1. Introduction
            1. Four main differing factors: visual look, tactile feeling, durability, greenness
            2. Growing popularity of e-books
            1. Design
              1. Print books (available in all sizes and shapes, appealing to people)
              2. E-books (high-tech, thin)
              1. Feeling
              1. Print books (different weights, textures, and smells)
              2. E-books (plastic or metal, have no “feel”)
              1. Durability
              1. Print books (may last for centuries)
              2. E-books (can break or get viruses)
              1. Greennes
              1. Print books (paper-based, electricity-free, recyclable)
              2. E-books (paper-free, electricity-based, not recyclable)
              1. Conclusion
              1. Summarizing the similarities
              2. Summarizing the differences
              3. Concluding the importance of topic

make-your-outline-more-effective

Make your outline more effective

Do you want to know how to write an outline that is sure to become the benchmark?

  1. Keep phrases and sentences structure in harmony.

In order to reach consonance and harmony in your outline structure, you should think over the similarity of all constructions used (grammatically, stylistically, etc.). Keeping everything consistent will significantly improve the readability and visual perception of the content.

For example:

  1. Choose an appropriate topic.
  2. Make a clear outline.
  3. Write an outstanding essay.
  1. Maintain the synergy between similar paragraphs.

The level of importance of each heading should be similar, and the same coordination should be applied to subheadings.

  1. Perform in-depth research.
  2. Write a research paper.
  3. Provide your hypothesis justification.
  4. Write down relevant conclusions.
  1. Keep the subordination.

Though it may seem obvious, remember to stick to the relevant paragraphs’ rankings. The most common order moves from the general (headings) to the specific (subheadings).

  1. Choose the desired library.
  2. Visit the library archives.
  3. Find the books for your essay writing.
  4. Make useful notes.

stay-focused-yet-flexible

Stay focused, yet flexible

Even though there is a pretty strict outline format, it shouldn’t make you less flexible throughout the writing process. Start developing the outline before you are too deep in the topic so that it can take a different shape and change the direction in the process. Feel free to delete some sections and add new ones as you learn more about your topic.

As you make major reorganizations to your paper, though, be sure to keep from losing your focus. Your outline should help you stay concentrated; when the writing deviates from the outline too much, your focus may be lost—giving you an unstructured array of information.

What should you do if your paper has strayed from the outline?

Recreate your outline based on what you’ve actually written in your paper. Check your paper carefully, and if it seems difficult to outline, that may be an indication that it’s too confusing or off topic. Go back and revise or update the document accordingly.

By using the outline as your tool to structure your academic writing, it will become a good friend on the way to your aim. This way, your paper will stay organized and structured.

Tip: Did you know that you can create outlines using Microsoft Word? All you have to do is:

  • Click on the Home tab.
  • Find the Paragraph settings below.
  • Choose your outline format.

Hopefully, this knowledge of outlining will help you boost your personal efficiency. And now you can confidently claim that you know how to write an outline!

helpfull-links-for-outline-writing

Helpful links for better outline writing:

Would you like to write your essay fast? This essay outline sample handout in PDF [link] will help you.

Some good outline samples and examples can also be found around the web:

APA outline format examples

MLA research paper outline

Definition essay outline template

Good luck with your writing, and may your outlining be effective.