• Creating an outline is one of the most important parts of the process of writing essays and term papers.
  • Like a good road map for your ideas, an essay outline helps you stay focused on your writing goals.
  • An essay outline includes all the main components of the essay including the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

Welcome to the wonderful world of essay outlines.

What sometimes seems like the chore can turn out to be your biggest help in making your essays and term papers stand out.

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If you want to improve your writing and get better grades, it is always a good idea to learn how to write good essay outlines.

What’s With the Roman Numerals?

Have you ever wondered why most academic essay outlines use Roman numerals like I, II, and III?

There is no magic reason for using Roman numerals. The Roman numeral system does allow for linear, logical grouping of sequential ideas. You can also “nest: your ideas as follows:

I.  Plants

A.  Trees

1. Oak

2. Banyan

B.  Flowers

1. Tulips

2. Roses

II.  Animals

A.  Reptiles

1. Turtles

2. Snakes

3. Lizards

B.  Mammals

1. Rodents


b. Rats

Using this system of outlining, each upper-level (I, II, III) tier is the broadest category, and within each broad category you can include several sub-categories.

You might eventually be able to abandon the use of the Roman numeral outline, but because the vast majority of instructors will ask you to create a formal essay using Roman numerals, it is best to master this process now.

What Is An Essay Outline?

  • An essay outline is the skeleton of your essay, research paper, or term paper.
  • An essay outline is a road map and guide, but one that you create yourself.

When you write an essay, you start from scratch, with nothing but a jumble of thoughts.

If you have trouble writing your essays, try spending a lot more time writing your outline. You will find that your writing flows a lot easier when you write an essay outline first.

A good outline will lead to a better essay.

Want Writing to Be Painless?

Writing an essay outline is easy, and only takes up a little bit of your time.

In fact, you should never spend too much time writing an essay outline.

An essay outline also gets you more in the habit of thinking differently about scholarly writing.

When you write essay outlines regularly, you will find that your overall writing quality improves. You will also find that you write essays faster.

This article will help you write an essay outline easily and effortlessly.

How Do You Write An Essay Outline?

OK, let’s begin. First, let’s go over the different types of essays, so you can figure out the right type of outline you need.

Types of Outlines

The following are the most common types of essay outlines you are likely to encounter:

  • Argumentative Essay
  • Persuasive Essay
  • Five Paragraph Essay
  • Compare and Contrast Essay
  • Informative Essay
  • Explanatory Essay
  • Synthesis Essay
  • Cause and Effect Essay
  • Process Essay
  • Rhetorical Analysis

The same basic essay outline structure can be used for each of these types of academic essays.

Basic Essay Outline

I.  Introduction

II.  Body

III. Conclusion

It’s that simple!

Just these three main components comprise a basic academic essay.

The introduction is your opening statement to the reader.

The body is the substantial portion of the essay and where you really begin to develop your ideas.

The conclusion wraps up what you have written.

Argumentative Essay Outline

Have you been asked to write an argumentative essay?

An argumentative essay is exactly what it sounds like: an essay in which you take a strong stance on an issue.

Ever get into an argument with your friends or parents, or someone online?

Just think of this as the groundwork for starting your argumentative essay.

An argumentative essay can be short or long, but ultimately, you will be arguing with an imaginary companion.

Pretend you are arguing with your instructor when you are writing an argumentative essay and your outline will look like this:

I.  Introduction

A.  Hey! Let’s talk about this issue. This issue is important because people are suffering.

B.  You might believe this to be true, but when you examine the evidence you might come to change your mind.

C.  My thesis statement is that my position is correct because of x, y, and z.

II.  Body Paragraph One

A.  The first reason why I am correct about this issue is that there is research backing up what I believe.

B.  The research states:

1. Insert paraphrase, quote, or citation here.

2. Discuss and reflect on the paraphrase, quote, or citation

C.  Because of this, I am correct.

III.  Body Paragraph Two

A.  The second reason why I am correct about the issue is…

IV.  Body Paragraph Three

A.  The third reason why I am correct about the issue is…

V.  Body Paragraph Three

A.  Let’s talk about your point of view.

B.  You believe this because….

1. Reason one

2. Reason two

C.  Here is why you are wrong.

1. Reason one is wrong because…

2. Reason two is wrong because…

VI.  Conclusion

A.  Let’s go over my thesis statement again

B.  The reasons why I am right are x, y, and z.

Persuasive Essay Outline

A persuasive essay is similar to an argumentative essay. However, there are a few small differences that you will notice as you gain more experience writing your essays.

For one, a persuasive essay can be less antagonistic than an argumentative essay.

With a persuasive essay, you are gently coaxing your reader to do something, or to change their way of thinking.

With an argumentative essay, you can assume that the person you are talking to disagrees with your point of view.

Remember when you had to sell cookies, lemonade, or chocolate-covered almonds to raise money for your sports team, your school play, the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts?

You already mastered the art of persuasion, and now all you have to do is to translate those skills into writing. Here is an example of a persuasive essay outline:

I.  Introduction

A.  Hey! There is a very important issue that you have no knowledge of yet, and I would like for you to take action.

B.  did you know that a,b,c are true?

C.  Thesis: You should vote a certain way or do a certain something because of a,b,c.

II.  Body Paragraph One

A.  Consider issue (a), and how your contributions or change in worldview might help solve the problem.

B.  Here is some scientific evidence showing that if you take action, you can solve the problem.

C.  Let’s move onto the next issue.

III. Body Paragraph Two

A.  Consider issue (b) and how your contributions or change in worldview can help solve the problem.

B.  Here is some academic or scholarly evidence supporting my view.

C.  Here is what you can do.

IV.  Body Paragraph Three

A.  If you do nothing, this could happen.

B.  It is important to consider other options, but I sincerely believe that my way of doing this is best because:

1. Reason

2. Reason

V.  Conclusion

A.  I hope I have persuaded you that killing animals is wrong, or that saving the whales is right.

B.  I have presented evidence to you such as a,b,c

C.  We’re all in this together, let’s take action!

Five Paragraph Essay Outline

The most basic of all academic essays, the five paragraph essay is something you learn early in your writing career.

The five paragraph essay is the basis of all other essays.

In fact, all outlines follow the five paragraph essay format:

I.  Introduction

II.  Body Paragraph One

III. Body Paragraph Two

IV.  Body Paragraph Three

V.  Conclusion

Notice how all of your academic essay outlines follow this basic structure.

A five-paragraph essay does not need to be exactly five paragraphs long.

The same structure can be used for an essay or term paper of any length.

There are some types of academic essays that have a different structure, but most will follow the basic structure that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

At some point in your writing or academic career, you will be asked to compare and contrast two issues, people, places, works of literature, or events in history.

A compare and contrast essay outline is a little bit different from other types of essay outlines.

For one, there are two different types of compare and contrast essays. The first is the block format. The second is the point-by-point format.

With the block format, you discuss one issue at a time.

With the point-by-point format, you discuss points of similarity and difference one at a time.

Either way, you have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Block Format Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

I.  Introduction

II.  Discuss Item 1

A.  Detail 1

B.  Detail 2

III. Discuss Item 2

A.  Detail 1

B.  Detail 2

IV.  Discuss Similarities and Differences

V.  Conclusion

Point-By-Point Format Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

I.  Introduction

II.  First point of comparison

III. Second point of comparison

IV.  Third point of comparison

V.  Conclusion

Informative Essay Outline

Sometimes you will be called upon to write an informative essay. Unlike argumentative or persuasive essays, an informative essay does not require that you have a strong opinion on the issue. In fact, your goal is to remain as objective as possible in your tone.

Informative essay topic examples include:

  • Country or geography profiles
  • Information about a specific food or drink
  • A company report

Informative essays read like news articles, informing the reader about who, what, when, where, why, and how.

An informative essay outline would be completed according to the principles of the five-paragraph essay.

I.   Introduction

A.  What are you going to inform the reader about?

B.  Thesis: The main features of this issue, person, place, or thing include a,b, and c.

II.  Issue One

III. Issue Two

IV.  Issue Three

V.  Conclusion


I.  Introduction

A.  On December 4, 2018 there was an earthquake in Jones, Alabama

B.  The earthquake has impacted the availability of some community services, electricity and running water, and relief efforts.

II.  Issue One: Community services.

A.  Libraries and schools will remain shut all week.

B.  The buses are running a limited schedule.

III.  Issue Two: Utilities

A.  Electricity is back on for some, but not all residents.

B.  Running water is on for 90% of residents, and all others are asked to remain at the county shelters.

IV.  Issue Three: Relief efforts.

A.  Rescue and relief operations are currently taking place in remote areas.

B.  Hospital services are restricted only to essential and emergency interventions.

V.  Conclusion

A.  You can find out more information on this website.

Explanatory Essay Outline

An essay that explains how to do something, or which explains a specific problem or situation is called an explanatory essay.

When you write an explanatory essay, the goal is to answer questions like:

Why does this happen?

How does this thing work?

Topic examples for an explanatory essay include:

  • Explain how a food chain works in a wetland ecosystem
  • Explain how a bill becomes a law.
  • Explain how a college graduate finds a job.

An explanatory essay outline would look like this:

I.  Introduction

A.  What is it you are going to explain?

B.  How are you going to explain it?

C.  Thesis: The main components include a,b,c.

II.  The first step

III. The second step

IV.  The third step

V.  Conclusion

Synthesis Essay Outline

Although not as often assigned as argumentative essays, synthesis essays can be common in certain courses like art and literature.

The term “synthesis” means to combine or join together. When you write a synthesis essay, you are blending various ideas or concepts. For example, you might want to synthesize different points of view on a political issue, or synthesize various art critics’ opinions of a certain piece.

Writing an outline can greatly help you write a synthesis essay, keeping your thoughts and ideas focused.

Using the template of the five-paragraph essay outline, you can create a strong synthesis essay outline as follows:

I.  Introduction

A.  Policy analysts/art historians/literary critics like to discuss this issue because…

B.  Some scholars, like this person, believe…

C.  Other scholars, like these people, believe…

D.  Thesis: These various viewpoints link together and share a common ground on these three main elements: x, y, and z.

II.  Theory one

III. Theory two

IV.  How theories intersect with one another.

V.  Conclusion

Cause and Effect Essay Outline

You will often be asked to write about the causes and effects of a war, political situation, disease, or just about anything else you can think of.

A cause and effect essay usually tends to focus on one or the other: on causes or effects. In some cases, though, you might be able to discuss both in the same essay.

For example, you could say that the causes of Type II Diabetes is lifestyle-related, and that the effects of Type II Diabetes include fatigue, vision problems, and reduced overall quality of life.

If you are focusing on both causes and effects, your essay outline might look like this:

I.  Introduction to the issue

A.  What is the big deal about this particular issue and why is it important to understand its causes and effects?

B.  Thesis: The causes of the issue are…and the effects are…

II.  Causes

A.  Cause 1

B.  Cause 2

III. Effects

A.  Effect 1

B.  Effect 2

IV.  Conclusion

If you are only focusing on the causes, your outline would look more like this:

I.  Introduction to the issue

A.  Why is understanding what caused this issue so important to understand?

B.  The issue is caused by x,y, and z

II.  Cause 1

III. Cause 2

IV. Cause 3

V.  Conclusion

Now we know what causes this problem, it might be easier to look for solutions.

If you are only focused on the effects, your essay outline would look like this:

I.  Introduction to the issue

A.  Why is this topic so important to understand?

B.  The effects of this include x,y,z

II.  First effect

III. Second effect

IV.  Third effect

V.  Conclusion

Process Essay Outline

Have you ever been asked to explain how to do something, such as writing a recipe? A process essay is one in which you explain to the reader how something is done or achieved in a step-by-step method.

A process essay outline looks like this:

I.  Introduction

II.  The first steps in the process

III. The next steps

IV.  The final steps

V.  Conclusion

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

What is a rhetorical analysis?

A rhetorical analysis essay is one in which you thoroughly analyze another person’s argument. Usually, you will be asked to critique a certain author. Rhetorical analysis assignments are common.

Typical examples of a rhetorical analysis include:

  • Analyzing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in terms of pathos, ethos, and logos.
  • Analyzing Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”
  • Analyzing a presidential speech

A rhetorical analysis essay outline looks like this:

I.  Introduction

A.  Introduce the speech, work of art, or literature

B.  The author/artist uses ___ techniques to achieve ___ goals.

II.  Technique one

A.  The author uses this technique to achieve the main goals.

B.  Citations from the primary source

III. Technique two

A.  The author uses this technique to achieve the main goals.

B.  Citations from the primary source

IV.  Technique three

A.  The author uses this technique to achieve the main goals.

B.  Citations from the primary source

V.  Conclusion

A.  The author did or did not achieve ___ goals through the use of ___ techniques

Essay Outline Example: A Point-by-Point Compare and Contrast

I.  Introduction

A.  Zombies and vampires are two “undead” creatures that have captivated the public consciousness.

B.  Thesis: Although zombies and vampires are both undead enemies of the living, they have different etiologies, different characteristics, and different needs and motivations.

II.  Etiology/Origins

A.  The etiology of zombie-ism is either an infection or a curse.

1. West African religions and Voodoo tend to view zombie-ism as a result of a curse, which can be imposed upon others by a witch or black magician.

2. There are also herbs and potions that can cause catatonia or physical states that mimic death, creating a “living dead” person.

3. Modern zombie literature frequently refers to outbreaks or infections, framing zombie-ism more as a disease.

B.  The etiology of vampirism is direct transmission from one vampire to another.

III. Characteristics

A.  Zombies are mindless, soulless wanderers, whereas vampires are soulless, but they are highly intelligent creatures with active social lives.

B.  Vampires tend to have a certain elegance in their demeanor, whereas zombies cannot hold a conversation at all.

C.  Both zombies and vampires have senses that are honed to find human prey.

D.  Vampires have an aversion to daylight, but most types of zombies do not.

IV.  Needs and Motivations

A.  Both zombies and vampires are selfishly motivated by their own perpetual hunger.

B.  Both zombies and vampires also have a desire to propagate their own species by transforming human beings into one of them.

V.  Conclusion

A.  Zombies and vampires are both undead, but they look and act different from one another.

B.  If there was an apocalyptic battle between zombies and vampires, it is uncertain who would win, but it is certain that the living would lose.


Essay outlines can improve your academic writing tremendously. Taking just a few minutes to organize your thoughts is a great investment of time, potentially shaving off hours from your writing schedule.

An outline helps prevent many of the most common problems in student writing such as rambling, going off topic, or forgetting to address all the aspects of the essay prompt.

Most formal academic outlines follow the Roman numeral format and the structure of a five-paragraph essay.

However, you can also use other prewriting strategies like brainstorming. Use whatever method works best for you.

For more information on essay outlines, or for help on writing your own essay outline, seek out a qualified writing tutor now.