If you're sitting down to write an essay, you simply must begin with an outline. It's the only way to gather your thoughts and write a clear and coherent paper. Your ideas will flow in a logical order and the topic sentences in your body paragraphs will pack a firmer punch. It's a winning combination! Best of all, the benefits of an essay outline extend well beyond the essay itself. If you've followed your outline, the editing process should be much smoother, too. Let's walk through the top five benefits of an essay outline and then enjoy some samples.
1. Greater Focus
In an essay, your thesis statement is the light at both the beginning and end of the tunnel. It's something to focus on with every idea you develop and topic sentence you create. No matter what compelling argument or intriguing fact you're presenting, it must harken back to your thesis statement.
An outline pulls out all your thoughts and highlights them in a way that you can see if you've signaled back to your thesis statement or if you've gone off track. In essence, it helps you remain focused and not drift into unrelated topics.
If, in fact, you are crafting an argumentative essay, explore all the ins and outs in this article: Argumentative Essay Outline.
2. Smoother Transitions
Transition words and phrases between paragraphs are very important. They glue the pieces together in smooth, straight lines. If a reader ever wonders how they jumped from one point to another, you've missed an opportunity for a crafty transition. A well-devised outline will help you see if your transitions are smooth and your material follows a logical order.
For more on this, check out Examples of Transitional Words and Phrases.
3. Optimal Order of Content
Focus and transitions bring us to the order of things. Teachers around the globe have different feelings about the flow of an essay. Many have come to the conclusion that it's best to state your strongest argument first, and then move on to less-poignant remarks. Your outline will help you to see if you've presented your facts in the optimal order of impact.
Of the many different types of essays, an expository essay is, perhaps, the most systematic. It asks writers to explore an idea, evaluate the evidence, elaborate on the main idea, and state their argument in a coherent manner. This is the kind of essay that must follow a strict and sensible order.
Check out these Tips on Writing an Excellent Expository Essay. It will help you in all your essay-writing endeavors.
4. More Concise Writing
Your outline will help you achieve one of the top goals of writing: concision. Using ten words when two will do never does a writer any good. Maintaining clarity and concision will allow your message to be received by the reader, instead of buried under a mountain of unnecessary words and tangential discussion topics.
These 10 Tips for Writing Clear, Concise Sentences are well worth a review.
5. Improved Organization
At its heart, an outline is an organizational tool. Did you cover everything you wanted to say? Did you approach your argument in a sensible manner? Is your case strong or your story compelling?
Even if you're not "proving a point," as you might in a persuasive essay, it's still important to organize your approach. A narrative essay, for example, tells a personal story. Still, you'll want to outline that story in chronological order, or an order that will make sense to the reader.
Here's the rundown on Persuasive Essay Writing Made Easy. It'll help you focus on better organization. And, if you've been tasked with a narrative essay, here are all your Tips for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay.
Types of Outlines
Whether you use a keyword outline or a fuller essay outline, this rough sketch will set you up for success. Generally speaking, there are two main types of outlines: keyword and sentence.
A keyword outline provides a quick overview of the topics you'd like to cover. In any outline, you should always begin with your thesis statement at the top of the page. It indicates which areas to elaborate on.
Think of your syllabus for a college course. Typically, professors use a keyword outline structure to detail topics that will be covered throughout your time together. Here's a sample of an informative essay outline:
How to Travel Solo Successfully
Thesis Statement: Traveling solo is something that can and should be learned today.
- Scanning GPS on sidewalk
- 4/15 people pickpocketed
- Public transportation
- Research hostel
- Consider private room
3. Pack for lack of companionship
- Blank journal
Conclusion: Reiterate importance of area knowledge, accommodation choice, and personal transformation through self-reflection in a journal.
To read the full essay that came from this keyword outline, check out Examples of Informative Essays.
A sentence outline is more detailed. Like a keyword outline, you'll want to include your thesis statement at the top. Then, use top-level bullet points to draft the full topic sentence for each paragraph. Under each of these topic sentences, provide supporting facts and evidence. Here's a sample from a persuasive essay:
Benefits of Religion
Thesis Statement: Organized religion has lasted through the centuries because people need a way to draw together in fellowship.
1. Religion provides a fulfillment of faith.
- Every person has some sort of longing and desire to express their faith.
- Even an atheist is a faithful person.
- People were created to express their beliefs.
2. Organized religion creates a sense of community.
- Community is supposed to bring people together in peace.
- It helps people connect with one another.
- New opportunities for charity are created.
3. Religion develops regional cultures where people can band together.
- Culture is affected by religion; portions of the Middle East are driven entirely by the Islamic faith.
- Western cultures seem to lack organized religion; the result is disorientation.
- If a culture's religion changes, culture changes, not vice versa.
Conclusion: The cliché, "No man is an island," exists for a reason. People need to feel a sense of community, even if they're loners living at home who connect with other "homebodies" through the Internet. Religion directly and organically nurtures a sense of community and camaraderie.
Outline Your Thoughts Today
An outline seems like extra work, but in reality, it creates less work for you in the actual act of writing your essay. Your thoughts will flow more freely and in a more organized manner. Best of all, when done thoughtfully, a smart outline will even alleviate the editing process.
For more inspiration, check out these Essay Examples. They explore the most common types of essays and offer samples for you to review.