How to Outline an Essay – An Example with a Thesis

A detailed essay outline helps you organize your thoughts and prevents writer’s block. 

I’m Tutor Phil, and in this tutorial, I’ll guide you through the process of outlining a simple, college-level essay.

I’ll also give you an example of a complete thesis statement based on the outline. Let’s dive right in. 

Outlining an essay is a four-step process:

Step 1. State your thesis (main point)

Step 2. Identify your main sections 

Step 3. Divide each main section into subsections

Step 4. Create a bulleted list based on the resulting structure

Step 1. State your thesis (your main point)

This step is crucial, and yet so many students miss it. You see, in order to outline an essay, you must know what it is that you’re outlining.

If you don’t have a clear idea of your thesis, which is your main point, it will be very hard for you to create a detailed outline. 

For example, let’s say that your essay prompt asks you to decide whether you are for or against smoking in public. 

Make that decision before you proceed to outlining your essay. Don’t try to use your outline to make that decision. An outline is not an evaluation tool. It’s an organizing tool. 

If you get a clear idea of what you’re arguing in your essay, this will save you a lot of time and frustration. Just decide, and then use your outline to organize the support for your main point.

Our Sample Essay Prompt

Let’s say that your professor gives you this very simple writing assignment. You must answer this question:

“Are elections important and why?”

This is a very easy prompt with a pretty obvious answer. But let’s use it to outline an essay. 

Our first step is to make the decision and write down our thesis. Let’s do it:

“Elections are important because they have consequences.”

We just decided that, yes, elections are indeed important, and that is because their results affect the world. 

This statement is crystal clear, and we can proceed to the next step.

Step 2. Identify your main sections

This will be the first level of hierarchy in your outline. Here is something very important:

Each main section must correspond to a supporting point for your thesis. 

This means that in order to know our main sections, we need to come up with three supporting ideas for our main point. 

To do this, let’s use the Power of Three, which is the simplest way to divide any essay into main sections.

You can use the Power of Three to divide any topic into subtopics. Let’s use it to come up with three points to support the idea that elections are important. 

Why are elections important? Because they have consequences.

But what kinds of consequences do they have? In other words, what are three main areas that are affected by elections?

The three main areas that are relevant to any country are:

  1. Political 
  2. Social
  3. Economic

Political consequences deal with the government. Social effects pertain to people, the society. And economic consequences pertain to money, or finances. 

Now, we can actually write out our complete thesis statement:

Complete Thesis Statement

“Elections are important because they have political, social, and economic consequences.”

This statement gives us a very clear picture of our main structure. Let’s take a look:

We’ve identified our main sections and are now ready for the next step.

Step 3. Divide each main section into subsections

If you need an outline for your essay, you’re probably writing a paper that is a little longer and more complex than a simple 5-paragraph essay. 

That said, you can use these steps to outline even a 5-paragraph essay. But when writing a longer paper, your main structure will have sections rather than paragraphs.

In short, don’t think in terms of paragraphs when outlining an essay. Think in terms of sections and subsections. And then each of those can have one or more paragraphs.

We already have three beautiful and clear main sections. Now, let’s divide each of them into subsections. 

And what will each subsection contain? Each one will contain evidence to support the claim you make in the main section. It’s actually simpler than it sounds. Let’s do it.

Section 1. Political consequences

How can we divide a country’s politics? We can use the Power of Three here, too. However, it seems that a country’s politics can be most easily and intuitively divided into two parts:

  1. Domestic policy
  2. Foreign policy

Does this make sense? Just look for the most obvious way to divide each of your sections. 

Section 2. Social consequences

The previous section was easy. It just naturally divides into two types of policies. But dividing into parts is not always that easy or obvious. 

Whenever trying to divide a section, and the answer doesn’t come easily, use the Power of Three. 

So, how can we divide the social aspect of a country? What are three main things about any society? Let’s see:

  1. Housing (people must live somewhere)
  2. Healthcare (people must have access to quality healthcare)
  3. Education (everyone needs an education)

When I was looking up social aspects, another one came up that is very important, and that was income. But I remember that I have an entire section on economics. So, that’s where income should go.

We now have three beautiful subsections in section 2. It is clear that elections affect people’s housing, healthcare, and education. 

Let’s do the next one.

Section 3. Economic consequences

What are two or three main aspects of any economy? Let’s use the Power of Three:

  1. Taxes
  2. Employment
  3. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

These are the three major aspects of an economy in any country. And now we have a more detailed picture of our essay.

And guess what – we’re done with step 3 and can proceed to the final step and put together the actual outline. 

Step 4. Create a bulleted list based on the resulting structure

This step is the easiest because we already have everything we need to put it together. Let’s do it.

Resulting Essay Outline

  1. Thesis: “Elections are important.”
  2. Section 1. Political consequences.
    1. Domestic policy
    2. Foreign policy
  3. Section 2. Social consequences.
    1. Housing 
    2. Healthcare 
    3. Education 
  4. Section 3. Economic consequences.
    1. Taxes
    2. Employment
    3. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  5. Conclusion. 

Please note that you can subdivide your structure even further. Just use the Power of Three and divide any of the subsections into more subsections or into paragraphs. 

In other words, you may repeat Step 3 as many times as you want to give yourself greater clarity or to outline a really long essay of several thousand words. 

Now, let’s write out a sample detailed thesis statement based on this outline. 

Thesis Statement Example

“Elections are important because they have political, social, and economic consequences. Politically, elections will determine the domestic and foreign policies. Socially, the near future of housing, healthcare, and education will be determined. And economically, taxes, employment rates, and the GDP will be affected.”

It is not necessary for you to know what exactly you will be arguing in each of the sections and subsections at this point. 

It suffices for you to know what you’ll be discussing in these sections. But you don’t have to know an exact argument you’ll be making in each section when creating an outline. 

At the same time, note that it is absolutely crucial that you know your main point because it dictates the entire structure. 

I hope this was helpful. Now go ahead and create your essay outline!

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

Recent Posts