Why Write With an Outline?

An essay outline is a strong and useful tool that will help you create a clear, easy to understand college paper.  While some forms of writing can be loose and open, an academic essay is most effective when it presents ideas as clearly as possible.  Students who take the time to create an outline for their essay give themselves a framework to follow that will ensure that every aspect of the paper reflects the core ideas.

A paper that has fantastic ideas but does not follow an outline is likely to get a poor grade.  No matter how brilliant you might be, you need to convey your ideas in a way others will understand.  An essay with mediocre ideas that is clearly outlined and easy to follow is likely to get at least a middling grade.  If you can produce an essay with good ideas in a clear, readable format then you will achieve high grades on your writing.  Creating a proper outline is the best way to begin.

Tip #1: Organize Your Ideas

In order to write a good essay, you will need to complete some research or other reading.  Take good notes, as they will help you think about the concepts you will write about.  Once your research is complete, you will need to organize your ideas in a way that will help you think about your essay.  There are a few ways to do this, depending on how complex your topic might be.

Some students create an 'idea map' where they write everything onto a large piece of paper, then make connections between clusters of ideas and issues.  Once you can see how the issues relate, you can think about ways to organize them into an essay.

Tip #2: Define your Thesis Statement

One of the most important parts of an academic essay is the thesis statement.  This must be a simple, clear statement that describes exactly what you plan to say in the paper.  Every word in the paper should relate to that statement.  Compare the following statements:

  1. "This paper will show that summer is warmer than winter"
  2. "This paper will discuss seasonal changes in temperature in various locations."

The first statement is very clear and easily understood.  It tells the reader that your research and analysis can prove the statement true.  The rest of your paper will be evidence to support your statement.

The second statement is on the same topic, but does not actually make a case for anything.  The reader does not know what the essay will try to prove, nor what elements or ideas are in the paper. 

The writer of the first thesis statement will know exactly how each of the elements of her paper should relate to the statement.  The first writer is positioned to succeed.

The second writer has given herself little guidance about how to write her essay, and the range of topics and issues might be enormous. The second writer has created a recipe for a poor essay and a poor grade.


Tip #3: Fill In the Standard Outline

Whatever the content, almost all academic writing follows the same approximate outline.  There exist few good reasons to deviate from this format when writing a college essay.

1.  Introduction.  The introduction has the thesis statement within the first two or three sentences.  It then lays out the arguments and evidence you present in the rest of your paper.

2. Body.  The body of a paper consists of a series of sections (often three).  Each section discusses a specific set of ideas and concepts, relating them back to the thesis statement.  Each section should have its own introduction, which outlines the ideas to be discussed.  It should then explore each idea, and end with its own conclusion, which summarizes the concepts discussed.

3. Conclusion.  The Conclusion should restate the thesis statement, then summarize how the essay has supported the thesis statement. 

If you follow a simple, accessible outline your paper will be easier to read and will get a better mark.  You will thank yourself for doing the extra work in advance.