Moving From Outline to Draft

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how to draft an essay from an outline

Using the Outline

An effective way to begin writing your first draft is to begin with your outline. Hopefully during the prewriting stage, you’ve collected notes, evidence, and ideas. First, you’ll want to organize these ideas into an outline for your paper and pick a working thesis statement. Follow the steps below to turn your outline into the first draft of your essay.

Step 1: Figure out your main points and create the headings for your outline

Let’s take a look at a very simple example—imagine that you’ve already created an outline for a five-paragraph essay on “why I love my dog.” It might have the following headings:

I. INTRODUCTION and THESIS: I love my dog because he is a good companion, well-behaved, and cute.

II. BODY PARAGRAPH 1: My Dog is a Good Companion

III. BODY PARAGRAPH 2: My Dog is Well-Behaved

IV. BODY PARAGRAPH 3: My Dog is Cute


Since the topic is why I love my dog, each of the body paragraphs will present a reason why you love your dog. Always make sure your main ideas directly relate to your topic and connect to the thesis statement. Don’t worry if you are not completely satisfied with the ordering; you can always change it later.  

Step 2: Add your supporting ideas

The next step is to fill in supporting ideas for each of your main ideas.

To continue the example above, a writer might fill in part II of the outline as follows:

II. Body Paragraph 1: My Dog is a Good Companion

A. My dog is fun

1. My dog likes to play

2. My dog likes to go on walks

B. My dog is friendly

1. My dog likes to cuddle

2. My dog likes people

Give any necessary explanations, descriptions, evidence, or examples to convince the reader that you are making a good point. If you are using quotes, you can add those to the outline. Remember to include the appropriate citation based on whichever format your teacher requires; having that information in your outline will speed things up when you write your paper (since you won’t have to go hunting for the bibliographic information) and make it easier to avoid plagiarism.

When you have finished adding supporting ideas, read through the outline to see if there is anywhere you think your argument has holes or could be further fleshed out. Make sure that your ideas are in the most logical order. Don’t be afraid to test out different orderings to see what makes the most sense!

Step 3: Turn your headings and subheadings into complete sentences

When writing a short to medium-length paper, each heading (or main idea) will typically correspond to one paragraph. For longer papers, each heading may be a section and your first (or even second) level of subheading will eventually become your paragraphs. See how many sentences fall under each heading to get a rough idea of what correspondence makes the most sense for your paper. 

Step 4: Construct your paragraphs

Next, start at the beginning of your outline and go through point by point. Start to put your sentences together into paragraphs. You may need to add transition phrases or even extra sentences to make sure your prose flows naturally. You might also find that even though your ideas made sense in an outline, you may need to more details or change the order of your ideas. You may even find you have too many ideas or that some ideas are not relevant. That is perfectly normal. Remember the outline is a plan to help you get organized, and you always have the flexibility to change it to fit the needs of your assignment.

Once you have finished turning your outline into paragraphs, you should have a decent first draft of your paper. Now you just need to proofread, revise, and repeat until you are ready to turn in your assignment!

Watch It

Consider this guidance from an English professor. She’s talking about a specific essay assignment for her students, but the general concepts of the video apply to all writing situations. Professor Pell’s best advice is to not write the sections of your paper in order. Instead, take advantage of the outline to skip around to the parts that are easiest to develop first, and that will have the biggest impact of your paper overall.

You can view the transcript for “Moving from Outline to Draft” here (download).

While you’ll have different sections of your paper, the concept still applies. Decide for yourself what order will be most effective to write in, and free yourself up to put off the difficult parts until last!

Try It