How to Outline a College Essay

When writing a college essay, some students take whatever is in their head at the moment, pour it all out on the page, and turn it in.

I'm sure you can sympathize with this method. You might even think that skipping the outline step and going straight into the essay will save time and help you finish this assignment ASAP so you can move on with your life.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with this logic. If you skip straight to the essay and forego the planning, it's likely you'll need more time to write, edit, and make sure that your essay includes everything you need.

The best college essays require an outline to help organize your thoughts before you begin to write.

Your outline will help you develop a more organized essay that makes sense and is logical to your reader. It can also help you better develop your ideas and actually save you time in the long run.

What are the steps for creating an outline?

Good news: it's not very difficult to put together an outline for an essay. Here are the basic steps you should follow:

1. Brainstorm and Select a Topic

Start by listing all of the topics you're considering. Don't judge the topics you're writing; just get as many of your thoughts on paper as possible. Set a timer for five minutes and list every topic that pops into your head.

Once you've created a list, look for topics that seem like the best fit for you and the assignment you've been given. Maybe a few topics could even be combined to create one larger, more developed topic.

2. Brainstorm some Supporting Details

Once you've chosen your topic, it's time to see if you have enough details to support this topic. A good, old-fashioned web of ideas can help you see how your thoughts are connected to your main idea.

Write your topic in the middle of a page and circle it. Draw lines and circles out to ideas that support this main topic. Again, don't judge your thoughts; just let them flow. You can narrow them down later. For now, you want to see if this subject is meaty enough to stick with and if you can relate several ideas to the main topic.

3. Label your Ideas. Where would they go in an outline template?

A basic outline format includes an introduction, a body of supporting ideas, and a conclusion. You will eventually take your brainstorm of thoughts and organize this chaos into a neat, orderly outline. This will help you place your ideas in a logical order and help eliminate some ideas that aren't as strong or that don't quite belong in your essay.

Take a look at your thoughts on your web of ideas paper and label them "I" if you think they help introduce your idea, "S" if they are great supporting facts for your main idea, and "C" if you think they help conclude your thoughts. If an idea doesn't seem to fit anywhere, you can put an "X" on it and consider saving it for a later essay.

4. Use an Outline Example to Plot your Essay

If the above steps intimidate you, you can always take a few minutes to look at outline examples to give you a better idea of what you're aiming for.

You can even try plugging your thoughts into an outline template. Here's a basic one to get you started:

  1. Introduction (usually one paragraph)
    a) Hook—get your reader's attention
    b) Preview the main idea
    c) State your thesis

  2. Body of supporting ideas (Usually three paragraphs —one for each main supporting idea)
    a) Supporting detail #1 (with examples, stories, other details)
    b) Supporting detail #2 (with examples, stories, other details)
    c) Supporting detail #3 (with examples, stories, other details)

  3. Conclusion (usually one paragraph)
    a) Restate and reflect on your main idea/thesis
    b) Tie your ideas together
    c) Wrap it up in a coherent fashion

5. Start Writing!

Once you've plotted out your thoughts, beginning the writing process will be much smoother and easier for you. Your order is ready, your thoughts are organized, and your details are developed. Most of your essay is already written for you now.

The art of writing a college essay can be overwhelming at first. However, using an outline can help organize your essay in a way that makes it much easier to write and much nicer to read. Taking the time to brainstorm, plot out your thoughts, and place them logically into an outline will pay off in the future as it will save you time and help you create a well-crafted essay.

Published on: 7/15/20, 11:50 PM