Whether you're writing an essay, article, or blog post, learning how to write an outline can have a long list of benefits for your writing process.
Not only does having an outline help you achieve greater focus in your work, but it can also help provide smoother transitions between sections, more concise writing, and an improved overall structure.
Writing an outline before you start working can mean that you work more efficiently and produce a more effective finished product. Let's take a look at what you need to know to construct outlines that help support your writing.
Before we get into how to write outlines for essays, articles, and blogs, let's talk about the primary differences between these forms of writing.
Essays, articles, and blogs differ in a number of ways, including their:
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In general terms, essays, articles, and blog posts aim to serve different purposes.
Articles: Articles can have a variety of purposes depending on the audience, publication, and context. Some articles might intend to be educational, informative, entertaining, persuasive, or promotional.
Essays: Intend to analyze specific subject matter or present a well-stretched argument of a topic. They serve as a vehicle to express ideas, interpret and analyze information, inform readers, explore and reflect on complex topics, and more.
Blogs: Though articles and essays can both exist on a spectrum from casual to formal, blogs are typically the most informal of these three types of writing. Appearing on personal or business blogs, blog posts can serve many purposes including being informative, entertaining, instructional, personal, promotional, and more. The general purpose of blog articles is to provide valuable content to the audience.
Another way that articles, essays, and blogs vary is their typical length. In general, articles and essays tend to be longer than blog posts.
Articles: You can find articles of all lengths, from a few hundred words to several thousand words. Though the length can vary depending on the context of the article, articles are often shorter than essays.
Essays: Essays can range in length from a short five-paragraph essay to a several thousand word piece. In many cases, essays will be longer than blog posts and articles.
Blogs: Out of the three types of writing, blogs are usually the shortest. Though the length of blogs can depend on a number of factors-- like the target audience and purpose of the post-- they often range from just a few hundred words to two thousand words or more.
Articles, essays, and blogs all usually have intros, body text, and conclusions, but their structures aren't identical.
Articles: Articles usually have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, though the structure can be fairly flexible. They typically have engaging and compelling headlines and might be subdivided by subheadings and bullet points to help make the piece more readable.
Essays: Essays will, in many cases, follow a formal structure. This structure includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction typically presents a primary argument or thesis statement, the body helps to support the argument, and the conclusion serves as a summary or recap.
Blogs: The structure of blogs is usually more conversational and relaxed than both articles and essays. Though they usually have an intro, body text, and conclusion like articles and essays, the structural focus is on easy readability and maintaining audience attention. They will usually have an engaging and catchy headline along with subheadings, bullet points, and other elements to help maintain reader attention. Blogs typically end with a call-to-action that encourages the audience to take a specific action.
Perhaps one of the most notable differences between articles, essays, and blogs is the tone.
Articles: There are no set rules for the tone of articles-- some might be journalistic, others might be academic and formal, while others still might be more conversational or even humorous. The subject matter, the audience, and the publication format will impact the tone of an article. For articles that are published in academic journals or other professional publications, the tone can be quite formal.
Essays: It's common for essays to have a fairly formal tone, but it depends on the writer, reader, context, and publication. Essays will often include scholarly or academic language.
Blogs: You'll usually find that blog posts are a lot more casual than many articles and essays. The writer attempts to connect with the audience and is, therefore, willing to write with a much more personal tone. That being said, blog posts can run the gamut from incredibly informal to more structured and highbrow.
While there certainly can be overlap in terms of where articles, essays, and blogs are published, they can also differ in the context in which they are presented. As the internet, online platforms, and digital media continue to grow and change, the publishing landscape continues to evolve along with it.
Essays: Essays can often be found in academic journals, literary magazines, anthologies, and academic settings.
Blogs: Blogs are exclusively published online and can appear on personal blogs maintained by an individual or by businesses as a part of their marketing efforts.
It's important to remember that these are not hard and fast rules-- articles, essays, and blogs can all overlap one another when it comes to length, structure, context, and other factors.
Whether you're writing an essay as a school assignment or for a client as a freelance writer, creating an outline can help you get your thoughts organized.
Beyond that, it can help ensure that your argument is made in a logical way that is easily understood by the reader. With an outline, your ideas are more structured, allowing your writing to be more successful in achieving its purpose.
Starting at the very beginning, you'll want to consider the essay's topic, purpose, audience, or any other considerations.
Maybe you're writing an essay for an academic assignment. In this case, you'll want to familiarize yourself with any and all requirements of the essay.
On the other hand, maybe you're writing a personal essay to publish in your new book. In this case, you'll want to think about the audience you intend to appeal to, the purpose you're hoping to achieve, and the specific topic that you want to touch upon.
Though it may not always be necessary, many essays will require that you conduct research or interviews.
Now it's time to identify the main points of your essay. These are going to be the primary ideas that intend to answer the question posed by the essay prompt or that support the central concept of the essay.
A thesis statement is a sentence that typically appears near the end of the introduction of an essay. This sentence sums up the overarching, central idea behind the essay.
Now that you have your key ideas and your thesis, it's time to organize these main elements. Which order should they appear in? How does the order of the primary points change the way the reader will understand the arguments being made?
When writing an essay, you generally want to put your key ideas in the most logical order. You'll want to be able to walk the audience through the argument or primary ideas in a progression that flows naturally. As you're ordering your key ideas, consider where you will include supporting evidence and subtopics.
For every primary point you've outlined, you'll also want to outline subpoints that go into more detail on the topic. These subcategories can serve to further support the argument you're making or further explain the purpose of the essay.
At this point, you can also include any examples, quotes, evidence, or other information that supports the points you're making in your piece.
There are a number of different common essay structures, including:
Additionally, essays can be broken down into four different broad writing styles, which are:
Now it's time to work on your introduction. Though the structure and tone can vary depending on the topic and the intent of the essay, intros usually include:
Each body paragraph should have its own section in your outline. The standard way to break down the different sections of an outline is by using Roman numerals.
Next to each number, you'll want to write down the primary point or the topic sentence for each of your essay's paragraphs.
The last part of your outline will contain your conclusion. You'll want to write a short summary of the key points of your essay. This is also a place where you will want to restate your thesis in a way that emphasizes the argument you're making.
In many ways, writing an article outline is similar to writing an essay outline. At the same time, there are a few considerations that are specific to writing articles as opposed to essays.
Let's look at the steps you'll want to take to write an outline for an article.
The first thing you'll want to do is make sure you understand the purpose of the piece and the target audience.
For example, if you were writing a how-to article about fixing a car, you would structure the article very differently if the audience was composed of professional mechanics versus amateurs with no experience working on cars.
Before you get started with your outline, check in with the knowledge level, interests, intent, and expectations of the audience.
Articles should have a headline that is informative, catchy, engaging, or otherwise draws in the reader. Though it can seem strange to come up with a title before you've even written the outline, having the article title in mind can help you stay focused on the main subject as you continue to write your piece.
What are the key points that should definitely be included in your article? What are the primary arguments you're going to be making? Write down the most basic and barebones information that you want to present in your piece.
Just like in an essay, the introduction should introduce the reader to the subject matter and hook the reader so they stick around for the whole article. Depending on the type of article, the introduction can be more formal in its structure or more focused on connecting with the reader emotionally and conversationally.
Your article will need to be broken down into body paragraphs. You'll want these to be organized in a logical way, which each section or paragraph focusing on one of the key points you identified earlier.
Now that you've broken the article down into these categories, you'll want to note the supporting evidence you have for each subtopic. Depending on the topic and the purpose of the article, evidence could include case studies, research findings, expert opinions, personal anecdotes, or other supporting details.
You don't want your body paragraphs to abruptly change from topic to topic. Instead, it's a good idea to plan out the transitions between paragraphs. In your outline, come up with a plan for how each section will logically and naturally flow into the next.
Though not always necessary, you can further divide your article into subheadings. For long articles or articles that cover complex topics, breaking things down into subheadings can help make it easier for the reader to follow along and stay engaged.
Now, it's time to summarize the primary ideas you talked about in your article. Your closing statement should sum things up and be clear and concise. You might decide to end your article in a way that further engages the reader and keeps them thinking, such as including a thought-provoking question for them to ponder or a call to action.
Check out our post about the difference between blogs and articles for a more in-depth exploration of these two common writing formats.
There are a number of similarities between writing outlines for blog posts and essays or articles. At the same time, following the same order of operations for a blog outline as you would for an academic essay isn't going to be the most efficient use of your time.
With their own purposes and structure, outlining blog posts requires a slightly different approach than outlining articles and essays.
Before you start writing your outline, you'll want to think about who your target audience is and what the purpose is behind writing this blog post.
Who are you expecting will be reading this blog post? What will they be hoping to learn or achieve from reading it? What are you hoping to achieve in publishing it?
When you think about your target audience, you'll want to consider their knowledge level, their interests, and more. In general, the more you know about your target audience, the better you can understand how to write in a way that appeals to them.
Starting with an attention-grabbing title that explains the purpose of the blog post can help you stay focused during the outline writing process. There is a whole art to writing blog post titles, as you want to entice the reader to be curious enough to click.
What are the primary points you want to make in the blog post? Write down these key topics that are relevant to the subject at hand.
Writing your introduction early can help set you up to organize your blog post best. You'll want a compelling hook to draw the reader in and also give an overview of what is going to be discussed in the post.
Now it's time to take the key points you outlined earlier and break them down into paragraphs or sections. Each of these sections should focus on just one of the key ideas that you had previously written down.
Now it's time to take any research, supporting evidence, data, examples, or anecdotes that help to drive your points home and place them in the proper subcategories. This is your chance to make your piece as informative as possible or as persuasive as possible.
Blog posts are often more conversational than essays and articles, and you'll want to make sure the flow is natural between sections. Readers should never feel like there is a jarring transition between ideas-- unless, of course, this is an intentional literary device you're using.
Readability is key when it comes to blog posts. We all know how short the modern attention span is, and you want to make it as easy as possible for your audience to find the information they need. The more walls of text there are, the more likely they will be to click the back button and look for the same info elsewhere.
For this reason, it's a good idea to break things down into bullet points and subheadings.
Finally, it's time to sum up your primary points and write your conclusion. Blogs often end with some sort of invitation to the reader to keep engaging with the site or a call to action that drives them to take some form of action or another.
Learning how to write an outline for essays, articles, and blog posts is useful for writers of all kinds. No matter what type of writing you specialize in, providing a greater sense of organization for your work will help you write more efficiently and effectively.
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