Student Definition Essay Outline

Creating an Outline

Once a topic has been chosen, ideas have been generated through brainstorming and free writing, and a working thesis has been created, the last step a writer can perform in the prewriting stage is creating an outline. An outline allows a writer to categorize the main points, to organize the paragraphs into an order that makes sense, and to make sure that each paragraph/idea can be fully developed. Essentially, an outline helps prevent a writer from getting stuck when performing the actual writing of the essay. 

An outline provides a map of where to go with the essay. A well-developed outline will show what the thesis of the essay is, what the main idea of each body paragraph is, and the evidence/support that will be offered in each paragraph to substantiate the main points. 

The following is an example of an outline:

Thesis: In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their college careers.

  1. Advising
    1.  Find the right program(s) and/or career field
    2. Implement a plan for fulfilling program requirements
    3. Sign up for the correct classes
      1. Verify prerequisites
      2. Find times that work
      3. Locate proper instructor
    4. Evaluate progress
  2. Help with content
    1. Study groups
    2. Tutoring
      1. Drop-in
      2. Individual
    3. SI sessions
  3. Technology
    1. Computer Labs
    2. Academic websites
    3. Forums and online discussions

In this example, the Roman numerals I, II, and III are each of the body paragraphs that will appear in the essay. Next to each Roman numeral is the central idea behind each paragraph and how it relates to the essay’s main point (or thesis). The letters that appear under each Roman numeral show the details that will be offered in each paragraph to support the main idea of the paragraph. If some of the details require multiple explanations, these are noted with numbers under the letters.

Notice all that the above outline accomplishes: The main ideas/paragraphs of the essay have been grouped into an order that makes sense; the main idea behind each paragraph is identified along with the support that will be offered. Essentially, the essay is completely organized. Now the writer can simply follow the outline and turn each idea into a paragraph by expanding on the details that are present. 

While creating an outline such as this will take a small amount of time, the time put into creating this outline should result in saving even more time during the writing phase. If following the outline, the writer should not get stuck wondering what comes next or how to expand upon an idea. 

How to write a definition essay outline: following the manual


One of the most misunderstood essay projects is the definition essay. While the essay itself is actually quite enjoyable to write, most students fear this essay because they know so little about it. Once they learn how to write it and they learn about the word they are defining, they quickly realize that their fear was due to misunderstanding. Interestingly, when students are finished writing their first definition essay, they are ready to write another one.

The outline of the definition essay is similar to the outline of any other essay. The biggest difference in the definition essay versus the other types of essays is that the definition essay discusses a word or concept and what it means through denotation and connotation. This is what your essay outline should resemble:


  1. Introductory Section

    • Hook/Attention Getter: Begin with one of the many different techniques, like a short anecdote, an extended definition, or a collection of open-ended questions.
    • Bridge between the hook and the thesis: Include a few sentences that help the reader understand what your essay will define.
    • Thesis: This should include the word you are going to define and how you plan to define it.

  2. Body Paragraphs

    • First point about the word.
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.
    • Second point about the word.
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.
    • Third point about the word
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.

      (Continue this section in as many paragraphs as you need or as required by your instructor. In most cases, you should include at least three examples in each paragraph and each example should be analyzed.)


  3. Conclusion

    • Restate the thesis in new words.
    • Restate the main points of the essay with references from all of the body paragraphs.
    • Connect back to the hook/attention getter to close the essay.

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