How to Turn an OUTLINE into an ESSAY - The Nerd's Guide

Writing an essay can be a difficult task—especially so if you don’t feel confident writing and constructing full paragraphs. Many teachers recommend creating an outline first before starting your essay in order to help you get used to planning your work and writing higher quality essays. However, not only does creating an outline force you to plan ahead and arrange your thoughts, but it can also serve as a tool that you can use to make writing the entire essay easier.

Before we get into the details, let’s go through a few points. First, yes, of course most people use their outline when writing their essay. Here, we will be talking specifically about a tactic to transform your outline into an essay. This is more than just referencing your outline—it is making your outline into the paper.

Next, this method is not meant to imply that an essay made this way will be the best essay you can write. In fact, this style of formulaic “cookie-cutter” essay usually isn't the effective and fluid piece of writing that you should ultimately strive for. If you do not struggle with writing essays, then this message is not for you. Instead, this is meant to help students who can’t write essays or who struggle immensely with them.

If you are a student who doesn’t know where to begin when writing an essay, or doesn’t know when to change paragraphs or which sentence you should be writing next, then you are not alone. Many students in English classes struggle with similar writing problems. It is not usually that they don’t have ideas, it’s that transferring those ideas into a lengthy, complex structure can be a daunting task. If this sounds more like you or your student, then this method might be a good place to start. The important thing is that you can begin to create essays on your own—that way you can continue to practice and improve upon them.

Finally, we should mention that this will be an example that will not perfectly fit any and all essays you may be required to write in your English class. This is only one application of transforming an outline for a common 5-paragraph persuasive argument into a complete essay. However, if you can create an outline for your essay, then chances are you can utilize some of these techniques.

Now, let’s begin our transformation. First, we need to start with an example topic. Here, we will be writing an essay about why we think families with children should get a pet dog. See the example outline we have below:

 

  • Essay: Should Families with Children Get a Pet Dog?
    • Paragraph 1: Introduction
      • Restate question:
      • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility
      • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health
      • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding
      • Thesis statement
    • Paragraph 2: Point 1
      • Restate point 1
      • Evidence: routine chores are required
      • Evidence: will depend on the kids
      • Evidence: years-long commitment
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 3: Point 2
      • Restate point 2
      • Evidence: statistic: 75% of new pet owners feel happier
      • Evidence: companionship lessens threat of loneliness
      • Evidence: dogs are likely to show a lot of love
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 4: Point 3
      • Restate point 3
      • Evidence: can walk dog together as a family
      • Evidence: adoption and early process done together
      • Evidence: playing and going to dog parks can be an activity
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 5: Conclusion
      • Restate question with answer:
      • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility
      • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health
      • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding
      • Thesis:

 

Let’s notice a few things about this example outline. First, it is very formulaic and follows a pretty consistent structure. Notice how the three body paragraphs (paragraphs 2, 3, and 4) all have the same backbone: restate point, evidence, evidence, evidence, tie to thesis. Notice, too, that the opening and closing paragraphs (1 and 5) look almost exactly the same in our outline: restate question/restate question and answer, point 1, point 2, point 3, thesis. Yes, this is very formulaic and simple. But having this consistency and simplicity will help you get more comfortable and confident about writing essays as a beginner. This outline template is a great place to start for many essays, regardless of the topic, so that you can always have a possible plan on how to structure your essay.

Now, let’s begin the actual writing process, transforming our outline into full sentences. Watch how we create the first paragraph from the outline by turning each line into its own sentence:

  • Introduction Paragraph 
    • Restate question: Many families with children debate whether or not they should get a dog.
    • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility - For the parents, it is important that a dog can help teach their children responsibility.
    • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health - At the same time, the dog can help the mental health of the children and parents alike.
    • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding - The whole family can benefit from a dog together because a dog also provides opportunities for family bonding.
    • Thesis statement: Overall, a dog provides benefits to the whole family, not only as individuals, but together.

 

The goal here was to create a sentence for every line. We then try to make the best sentence we can, and to find some way to link the sentences together. However, these last steps are not necessary. The important part is that each line received a corresponding sentence, and these sentences can be combined to make the paragraph we see below:

 

Many families with children debate whether or not they should get a dog. For the parents, it is important that a dog can help teach their children responsibility. At the same time, the dog can help the mental health of the children and parents alike. The whole family can benefit from a dog together because a dog also provides opportunities for family bonding. Overall, a dog provides benefits to the whole family both individually and together.

 

Let’s continue with the first "body" paragraph and walk through each line as we do it. From our first paragraph, we know that our first main point was “dogs teach responsibility.” So we will be restating that point to start out Paragraph 2.

 

  • Paragraph 2, Point 1
    • Restate point 1 (from paragraph 1: “For the parents, it is important that a dog can help teach their children responsibility.”) Parents will see that having a dog in the house does wonders for their child’s responsibility.

 

Here, we are just looking to phrase our point from the first paragraph in a different way or at least just using different words. This is a persuasive essay, so we tried to make this first sentence catchy as an added bonus.

 

  • Evidence: routine chores are required - A dog requires daily chores that kids can learn and get used to in order to take care of their pet.

 

Now, we look to just make the idea of “routine chores” into a sentence. The essential idea that we are trying to convey is simply “dogs make kids do chores.”

  • Evidence: Dog will depend on the kids - The dog will also depend on the children, teaching them the responsibility that comes with having another living creature depend on you.

 

Notice here that we used the word “also” and we tied in our paragraph theme of “responsibility.” You don’t have to add these in every sentence but they can help your paragraphs flow more nicely. The essential idea here was to turn “dogs depend on kids” into a longer, more complete sentence.

 

  • Evidence: years-long commitment - The children will be responsible for this dog for years and will gain respect and appreciation for long commitments.

 

The essential idea here was to make the basic idea that “a dog will live with you for a long time” into a relevant sentence. This was the sentence we came up with that says why this is a good thing.

 

  • Tie to thesis: For the children on an individual level, dog ownership will benefit them by giving them more responsibility.

 

We double check our thesis and now just want to tie our first point into the thesis. Our point, that dogs teach responsibility, should be combined with our thesis, that dogs are a benefit to everyone in the family.

Now our sentence is complete and we can put it together:

 

Parents will see that having a dog in the house does wonders for their child’s responsibility. A dog requires daily chores that kids can learn and get used to in order to take care of their pet. The dog will also depend on the children, teaching them the responsibility that comes with having another living creature depend on you. The children will be responsible for this dog for years and will gain respect and appreciation for long commitments. For the children on an individual level, dog ownership will benefit them by giving them more responsibility.

 

Let’s follow this procedure for the next two body paragraphs in our outline:

 

  • Paragraph 3, Point 2
    • Restate point 2 (At the same time, the dog can help the mental health of the children and parents alike.) Dogs don’t just help the children; they can help everyone by improving their mental health.
    • Evidence: statistic: 75% of new pet owners feel happier - In fact, studies show that 75% of new pet owners feel happier after having a pet.
    • Evidence: companionship lessens threat of loneliness - A dog in particular can help avoid loneliness by always being a faithful companion if someone is feeling down.
    • Evidence: dogs are likely to show a lot of love - Dogs are also known for showing a lot of love, something that can definitely benefit a person’s mental health.
    • Tie to thesis: Dogs aren’t just animals around the house, they’re new family members that can make the whole family happier.

 

Dogs don’t just help the children; they can help everyone by improving their mental health. In fact, studies show that 75% of new pet owners feel happier after having a pet. A dog in particular can help avoid loneliness by always being a faithful companion if someone is feeling down. Dogs are also known for showing a lot of love, something that can definitely benefit a person’s mental health. Dogs aren’t just animals around the house, they’re new family members that can make the whole family happier.

 

In this paragraph, notice how we incorporated a fact or statistic by making it a sentence (accuracy of this particular statistic undetermined). We transitioned as best as we could from our previous paragraph in our first sentence, though this is not required and only an example. We used the term “also” again in one of our evidence sentences and then tied everything back to the thesis with our final sentence.

 

  • Paragraph 4, Point 3
    • Restate point 3 (“The whole family can benefit from a dog together because a dog also provides opportunities for family bonding.”) A dog will help everyone at a family level by giving them opportunities to bond.
    • Evidence: can walk dog together as a family - First, dogs require frequent walks which can be done together or as part of a routine with the family.
    • Evidence: adoption and early process done together - Also, the process of picking out a dog from the shelter or pet store can be a happy time for the family going through the process together.
    • Evidence: playing and going to dog parks can be an activity - There are many more ways you can all bond with a dog, but one last example is that everyone can play with the dog together at places like dog parks or a dog beach.
    • Tie to thesis: These bonding experiences are a benefit to the whole family that a dog opens the door for.

 

A dog will help everyone at a family level by giving them opportunities to bond. First, dogs require frequent walks which can be done together or as part of a routine with the family. Also, the process of picking out a dog from the shelter or pet store can be a happy time for the family going through the process together. There are many more ways you can all bond with a dog, but one last example is that everyone can play with the dog together at places like dog parks or a dog beach. These bonding experiences are a benefit to the whole family that a dog opens the door for.

 

Again, we open by trying to rephrase our main topic from the very first paragraph, then we turn our evidence points into one sentence each. Here, we used a “first, also, one last example” progression to transition sentences. This is similar to “first, next, finally/lastly,” and other transitions can be used (or not) to change how the sentences flow together. In the final sentence we revisit our original thesis with this final idea.

The last paragraph will now close our essay and it will look a lot like the first. The differences now lie in the fact that the reader has now read your explanations of each point and knows your entire argument. This is a final opportunity to remind them of each main point and close with your thesis.

 

  • Paragraph 5, Conclusion
    • Restate question with answer: It is clear that there are many benefits that should make a family with children choose to get a dog.

 

We’ve restated our main question/prompt for this essay again, but this time we can include what our answer/stance is since we are at the end of the essay. “Should a family with kids get a dog? Yes, there are many benefits”

 

  • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility - Parents will be thrilled at the positive effects they see from the added responsibility that dog ownership brings to their kids.

 

This is looking for yet another way to rephrase or reword our first main topic point from the very beginning.

 

  • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health - At the same time, the mental health of the kids and the parents will be greatly improved by a pet dog.

 

The same as before, though we now fit in a transition of “at the same time” to start this summarized point.

 

  • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding - Meanwhile, the whole family will be having a better time bonding together because of all of the activities they can do with the dog.

 

Just like the previous sentence, only this time we decided “meanwhile” might be a nice introductory word.

 

  • Thesis: Dogs provide a great benefit to everyone involved when a family with children gets a dog.

 

The last restating of your thesis statement. You can try to make this as catchy or memorable as you want, but be careful not to change the meaning or add anything that you didn’t discuss in your essay.

 

It is clear that there are many benefits that should make a family with children choose to get a dog. Parents will be thrilled at the positive effects they see from the added responsibility that dog ownership brings to their kids. At the same time, the mental health of the kids and the parents will be greatly improved by a pet dog. Meanwhile, the whole family will be having a better time bonding together because of all of the activities they can do with the dog. Dogs provide a great benefit to everyone involved when a family with children gets a dog.

 

Let’s finally see this whole essay put together from outline to essay:

 

  • Should Families with Children Get a Pet Dog
    • Introduction Paragraph 1
      • Restate question:
      • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility
      • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health
      • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding
      • Thesis:
    • Paragraph 2, Point 1
      • Restate point 1
      • Evidence: routine chores are required
      • Evidence: will depend on the kids
      • Evidence: years-long commitment
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 3, Point 2
      • Restate point 2
      • Evidence: statistic: 75% of new pet owners feel happier
      • Evidence: companionship lessens threat of loneliness
      • Evidence: dogs are likely to show a lot of love
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 4, Point 3
      • Restate point 3
      • Evidence: can walk dog together as a family
      • Evidence: adoption and early process done together
      • Evidence: playing and going to dog parks can be an activity
      • Tie to thesis:
    • Paragraph 5, Conclusion
      • Restate question with answer:
      • Point 1: Dogs teach responsibility
      • Point 2: Dogs improve mental health
      • Point 3: Dogs provide opportunities for family bonding
      • Thesis:

 

Many families with children debate whether or not they should get a dog. For the parents, it is important that a dog can help teach their children responsibility. At the same time, the dog can help the mental health of the children and parents alike. The whole family can benefit from a dog together because a dog also provides opportunities for family bonding. Overall, a dog provides benefits to the whole family both individually and together.

Parents will see that having a dog in the house does wonders for their child’s responsibility. A dog requires daily chores that kids can learn and get used to in order to take care of their pet. The dog will also depend on the children, teaching them the responsibility that comes with having another living creature depend on you. The children will be responsible for this dog for years and will gain respect and appreciation for long commitments. For the children on an individual level, dog ownership will benefit them by giving them more responsibility.

Dogs don’t just help the children; they can help everyone by improving their mental health. In fact, studies show that 75% of new pet owners feel happier after having a pet. A dog in particular can help avoid loneliness by always being a faithful companion if someone is feeling down. Dogs are also known for showing a lot of love, something that can definitely benefit a person’s mental health. Dogs aren’t just animals around the house, they’re new family members that can make the whole family happier.

A dog will help everyone at a family level by giving them opportunities to bond. First, dogs require frequent walks which can be done together or as part of a routine with the family. Also, the process of picking out a dog from the shelter or pet store can be a happy time for the family going through the process together. There are many more ways you can all bond with a dog, but one last example is that everyone can play with the dog together at places like dog parks or a dog beach. These bonding experiences are a benefit to the whole family that a dog opens the door for.

It is clear that there are many benefits that should make a family with children choose to get a dog. Parents will be thrilled at the positive effects they see from the added responsibility that dog ownership brings to their kids. At the same time, the mental health of the kids and the parents will be greatly improved by a pet dog. Meanwhile, the whole family will be having a better time bonding together because of all of the activities they can do with the dog. Dogs provide a great benefit to everyone involved when a family with children gets a dog.

 

This is our final essay, crafted entirely from our original, basic outline. In this process, there is so much room for variation and innovation. We used different transitional words, structured sentences in different ways, and tried to mesh sentences as best as we could while following the formula. Any different writer would come up with different sentences for each of these points in the outline. That is where there is always room to learn and improve.

The key foundation of this strategy is this: make each point into one sentence. There are many ways of writing an outline, however many of them follow a very similar structure for early essay writing. You can effectively turn any of those outlines into an essay by following this one principle. As you improve, you will find that you will rely less and less on the “each line in the outline makes one sentence” tactic. You will also find different ways to make sentences fit together, and different ways of making your paragraphs flow nicely. You won’t always have to confine each idea to just one sentence. You also won’t always have to put only one idea in a sentence. But, if you struggle in writing essays or knowing where to begin, then try this strategy and see an essay grow straight from your outline.

Michael C. is currently a private online math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerd in Irvine and Anaheim.