Many students balk at the idea of creating an essay outline since, at first glance, it may seem like additional work. So, for starters, let’s examine the question: Why create an outline?
Surely, there are alternative options, such as using a pre-set template or just diving in.
However, an outline may be the most appropriate option for you.
Why Create an Outline?
Diving in can be a great way to work through ideas, but may result in a messy and disorganized essay. Using a template may make your essay formulaic or cookie-cutter, two words that you definitely don’t want attached to your submission.
Readers examine hundreds of essays, so essays that do not show individuality will not add to your application.
The purpose of an essay is not only to add a personal element to your essay that would not come out in your test scores and transcript, but also to demonstrate your well-honed and impressive essay-writing skills.
In college, you will be writing essays in a majority of your classes. Most colleges have a mandatory or strongly recommended introductory writing course, but universities want students who will bring strong writing skills to campus.
An outline can lay the foundation for the organized, coherent essay that will allow you to gain admission into your choice college. While other techniques are beneficial to explore, an outline can be the much-needed first step for most students.
The central point of your essay may seem to be the most important aspect, but this philosophy is far from accurate. Wonderful and successful essays can concern anything from your summer job to the best way to consume cereal.
If you’re at a loss for ideas, making a list is perhaps the simplest option. Enumerate extra-curricular activities, events that influenced your childhood, your heroes, your favorite songs, movies, and any other elements of your life that could inspire an essay.
If nothing sticks, a family member or lifelong friend may be your best source.
The Outline Itself
When you have your idea, or a host of them, beginning the outline may be the simplest part. An outline can even serve to select an idea from a list of several.
In essence, the outline fleshes out the essay. You will need an intro, body, and conclusion, just like every other essay you wrote in high school.
On the other hand, this essay is much shorter, so it is extremely unlikely that you will be using three body paragraphs. The body of your essay will likely be one paragraph, or one central idea broken up into smaller paragraphs.
Many people know and will tell you that it is easier to cut than to add. Don’t be afraid to include anecdotes and stories in your outline, but mind the length. Too many anecdotes will dilute the power and strength of your essay.
The outline is also a fine bird’s-eye view of the essay in its entirety. Closely reading an essay may blind you to problem areas, such as a rambling or unnecessary introduction.
Also, the outline saves time, as jumping into an essay that does not pan out will prevent you from beginning any supplemental essays or personal statements.
Finally, an outline will force you to justify your writing. Flowery language detracts from the limited word count. To produce an essay that demonstrates emotional growth or your personality, you will likely desire more than 650 words.
Unfortunately, you are limited to that number, and so creating an outline will help to ensure that your essay is meaningful and succinct.
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Lesson Three: Structure and Outline
The easiest way to sabotage all the work you have done so far is to skip this lesson. Writing is as much a discipline as it is an art, and to ensure that your essays flow well and make sense, you need to construct solid outlines before you write. Unless you conscientiously impose structure around your ideas, your essay will be rambling and ineffective. An outline should make sense on its own; the ideas should follow logically in the order that you list them. As you add content around these main points, these words should support and reinforce the logic of the outline. Finally, the outline should conclude with an insightful thought or image. Make sure that the rest of your outline reinforces this conclusion.
The body paragraphs should consist of events, experiences, and activities you have already organized in chronological order or in order of importance. In many of the essays that our editors read, the order of paragraphs seems to have been chosen at random. Make clear why one point follows another: each point in your outline should connect with the next; each main category should be linked to your introduction or thesis; and each sub-category should be linked to the main category. As you make your outline you should be able to see where there are holes in your essay.
Continue on to descriptions and examples of various essay structures, a sample outline and essay, short essay strategies and samples, and essay writing templates to help cure the worst cases of writer's block.
From Essays That Will Get You Into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.