The outline will take you from one end of the essay to the other. It is the fundamental organisation of your essay.  It might help you to think of an outline as the headings and sub-headings in your essay. The outline should be constructed to keep you from losing your sense of direction as you research and write the essay. A good outline will make sure that everything you write supports your thesis and stops you wandering into irrelevant areas.

After you have brainstormed, list all the important points you want to cover in your essay; group related ideas together under general headings and arrange them so they flow logically.  Each main category should be linked to your thesis, and each sub-category should be linked to the main category. Discard anything not relevant to your thesis.  A good outline will show you if there are any gaps.

Some subject areas do not expect to see outline headings throughout the essay.  Occasionally, you might read a book on writing advice that states you only need headings in reports.  It is best to check with your tutor if you are unsure.  This website, wa4s, supports the use of headings throughout any essay type because they guide the reader.  If you do not include headings in your essay, you still need to make an outline for yourself that will help you structure your essay in a logical and organised way.

Essays typically follow this structure:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • References/Bibliography

It is the ‘body’ of the essay that needs the logical structure supported by headings and sub-headings.  The ‘body’ is where you develop your essay.  Introduction, Conclusion and References are already headings.

Reports typically follow this structure:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion and Recommendations
  • References

Critiques typically follow this structure:

  • Introduction
  • Summary
  • Critique
  • Conclusion

When you read book chapters or journal articles for your research, look at the headings and sub-headings and note how you are guided through the writing.  Aim for an effective outline to that usually found within your subject area.