HOW TO | My Outline for Writing an Essay


This is kind of out of the ordinary for my blog posts, but I think it’s something that might be helpful to those of you in uni/college, or even high school. As a third year in uni and currently going through English, I feel like I’ve come up with a perfect system to write essays and make it slightly less stressful on myself. It all starts with my outline, and that eventually morphs into my finished draft of an essay.

I’m aware that everyone has their own system and some things work better for others than it would for yourself. These tips, or this process is simply my way of organizing myself and getting ready to write an academic essay. I’m also aware that none of this might be new or something you can’t find elsewhere, but I hope in the end, it helps at least one of you!

  1. Decide on what you actually want to say. This might seem super basic, but you  have to figure out what it is you want to say about the topic. Whether it’s a book/review essay, an essay with a theoretical lens, or an essay with a prompt, pick a topic you are passionate about, to as much extent as you can be, and think you could find at least three points on. This is your starting point.
  2. Find three points that back up what you want to say. I’m going to put this disclaimer here and say for those of you in upper year levels who have had professors or teachers tell you the five paragraph essay goes out the window in university, it doesn’t. So once you’ve found the three points you think will back up your topic, lay it out in an outline like so (or however you want to do it):Topic: Put your amazing topic idea here. Or if you already have a thesis, plop that here.
    Point 1: Amazing point 1.
    Point 2:
    Amazing point 2.
    Point 3: Amazing point 3.
  3. Divide these points into two sections. This is probably the easiest part of writing essays, or at least of the outline. Just to give you a visual on what I mean by divide your points, it looks a little something like this:Topic: Same topic as before.
    Point 1:
    Your amazing point 1.
    Point 2 : Your amazing point 2
    Point 3: Your amazing point 3

    Now obviously this is where you would modify the outline to make it fit your purpose. Just for a gauge here, this layout is for a short, three paged essay. One I’m currently doing has an extra quote and comment section under each point and edited down very carefully, it’s about 4 pages. So you can add as many quotes/evidence + comments as you would like to fill in your word count or page count. This is just the basic outline that you can expand and adapt.

  4. Find some evidence/quotes. Probably the most annoying part in my opinion, but once you’ve found some evidence to back it up, plop it back in the little outline and move on to the next. Even if you just put in a page number, you at least have some thought about what could back up your point.
  5. Why does this quote/evidence support your topic/idea/thesis? In the comment section of the outline, this is where you can roughly brainstorm the importance of your quote/evidence. This is the most important part of your essay, it’s basically the bread and butter, and will be the most thing critiqued. It can be very rough and you can ramble, so long as you get at least one or two good points on how the quote or evidence you chose supports what you’re overall trying to say. A good trick a teacher once told me about this section is that the comment is the so what? section. A.k.a, why does the reader care about this quote? It’s your job to tell them why they should care.
  6. Repeat for all your points. Simply repeat steps 4 and 5 for the rest of your points, however many there are. Doing this very roughly makes it seem like you didn’t put a lot of work in, but at the end, you have a very rough outline of an essay.
  7. Form an actual thesis/topic, if you haven’t already. Figuring out the quotes/evidence and commenting on them typically makes finding the thesis a lot more easy in my opinion. Once you’ve come up with the actual topic, morph that topic point at the beginning of your essay into your introduction paragraph.
  8. Expand and refine. Once you have your outline, more or less complete, you can plop it into a word document and actually start expanding and refining those ideas you had put in your outline. Now this is the vital part of the process where you may realize your points are pretty crap, or something doesn’t make sense, or actually support what you’re trying to say. So here is where you would go through and make sure everything fits together and is coherent. It lays it out nice and easy for you so you can see what points you have and if they actually fit.
  9. Conclusion paragraph time! My favorite part, because that means the horrid process is over. You basically just take your introduction paragraph, reword it, and plop it at the end. Leaving off with some outstanding comment that leaves your reader thinking. This is where you can stretch your thesis out a bit to make the conclusion seem like a decent paragraph. Once you finish this, you’re just one step away to submitting.
  10. Edit. I don’t care what you do, how you do it, put your essay through some program that edits it for you to catch grammar, punctuation, and style guide mistakes. These mistakes can cost a lot of points if there are many, which is pretty stupid considering the essay is presumably about ideas, not spelling, but nonetheless, it’s important to convey a meaning with clarity. Have a friend, family member, or someone who is good at grammar/punctuation to go through your essay. Read it out loud! This is where you’ll figure out if something sounds stupid. Check citations/Style guide, if it’s a scholarly essay. Make sure to cite sources right, or else you could be nailed with plagiarism, and that is not a good thing.

That is it for my guide on how to write an essay. I’ve been using this for the past four years and it hasn’t failed me yet. I never used to plan essays out in high school because they weren’t that important, but now that my entire degree relies on them, I’ve started to plan them out and organize an outline. This is still kind of the lazy way to do it considering I copy and paste my outline into a professional word document and just edit it into an essay. But whatever works for you works! You have to find your niche in it and stick with it.

I hope this helps someone, maybe someone who is just starting to write an essay. This outline that I’ve given you can really be adapted into a 12 plus paragraph essay or longer, depending on how much you have to say. This isn’t the exact outline I would use if you had to do a comparison essay though, but I find they aren’t as common. While this guide doesn’t really help with forming thesis’, introduction/conclusion/and body paragraphs, if any of you would like a tip post on those, I’d be more than happy to write one. But for now, I hope this helps get those creative juices flowing and nips procrastination in the butt.

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