Download a PDF of this resource here.
Creating an outline will help you to plan your essay: arrange your information or points in a logical order and indicate the importance of and relationships between the points or parts. In the early stages of the writing process, you may develop an informal outline or diagram such as a mind map or a flow chart. If you are writing a comparison/contrast assignment, you may start by making lists: a list of similarities and differences between your subjects and a list of criteria that you may apply. For an evaluation assignment, you might develop lists of the strengths and weaknesses of your subject and then begin to determine which are most important. Following are several samples of informal and formal outlines.
Topic: the 2012 Quebec student protests
Narrowed topic: an examination of the scope, strength, and persistence of the 2012 Quebec student protests
- Strong historical and cultural support of accessible post-secondary education in Quebec
- 2010 Government plan to initiate tuition increases
- Participation of other groups in protests such as opposition parties and workers’ unions
- Creation of Bill 78 (incited further conflict)
- Tuition freeze in September, 2012
- Change of government after next election
- Former student leaders now involved in politics
- But lack of substantive discussion about equity in education in Quebec
Like the informal outline, a formal outline should be a single-page display of the line of thinking your essay will develop. However, a formal outline is usually more detailed. It begins with the thesis statement and then presents major and minor sections of the essay in a logical order, clearly showing the relationships between the thesis statement, main points, subordinate points, and examples. For an expository essay, you may simply use key words or phrases to delineate your sections; for a persuasive essay, it’s useful to write full topic sentences for your supporting and sub-points to show how your argument will progress.