5 paragraph Essay Outline

Table of contents

Defining the Outline

No matter what someone may be writing, there needs to be a “map” of how that content is going to be presented to a reader. Such a map will ensure that the points to be made follow in a logical sequence and include all of the detail that should be included.

When you write a 5-paragraph essay, you need a map too. And the typical 5-paragraph essay template is the best one to use – it is simple, easy to follow, and will make certain that your final piece is well-organized.

Difference Between Formal and Informal Outlines

We all learned how to craft a formal outline early on. You know – the one with the Roman numerals, alphabet letters and numbers. Using this for your 5-paragraph essay outline template is fine and has been used as an essay outline template for years.

But you can also develop your own informal outline style, depending upon what is most comfortable for you. Do not feel that you must you the formal structure. The point is that you have a map of the order in which your essay will be structured.

Sample outline construction

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Parts of the 5-Paragraph Essay Outline

Every essay will have the following three parts:

  1. Introduction: Here you will compellingly introduce the topic and state your thesis for the essay

  2. Body: This will be the three major points you make on the topic – one per paragraph. Each point will be listed in your outline, and the detail that supports that point should be itemized under each point

  3. Conclusion: This is your wrap-up and could include everything from summarizing your main points, re-stating your thesis in a different form, or providing some call to action (common with persuasive and/or argumentative essays).

Steps in Crafting the 5-Paragraph Essay Outline

  1. Choose your topic based upon the assignment. There are several essay types (expository, narrative, definition, compare/contrast, argumentative, analysis, etc.)

  2. Conduct research, if that will be required. Especially if you are writing a persuasive or argumentative essay, you will need data and statistics from experts on the topic, if your essay is to have credibility with the reader.

  3. Identify the three main points that will make your essay interesting and compelling to the reader. These will make up the body part of your outline.

  4. Craft the body section first. Each point is its own sub-topic and will take up one paragraph of the essay. Under each sub-topic, list the details you will include, in the order you will present them.

  5. The introduction part of your outline should include your thesis statement. Make sure that you have written that statement well. It will come at the end of your introduction.

  6. The Conclusion section of the outline does not need to be detailed at this point. After you have written the body, you can decide what you want to include in your conclusion.


Using the Essay Outline as You Write

Here is the only important thing you need to remember as you get ready to write: Follow that outline, formal or informal, and do not get off track. You have done your research, you have your points, and now you need to stick to them in the order that you have determined.

You know that your first writing is your rough draft. And you also know that the body paragraphs should be written before you craft your introduction and conclusion.

Five paragraph essay layout infographic

5-Paragraph Outline Essay Example

Let’s take the example of the topic “Causes of the Civil War.” Here are examples of both formal and informal outlines that could be used:

Formal Outline

  1. Introduction: Thesis Statement: Each of the three major causes of the Civil War has one major overriding conflict – the power of the federal government vs. states’ rights.

  2. Body

    1. Slavery

      1. Southern economic dependency upon slavery

      2. Northern rejection of slavery as it developed an industrial economy

      3. Moral issues of “owning” another human being

    2. Role of Federal Government in Commerce

      1. Federal government increasing its control over commerce, tariffs, etc.

      2. Southern states’ resistance to control of interstate and international commerce by the federal government.

    3. Agrarian Vs. Industrial Societies and Lifestyles

      1. Attempts by northern industrialism to infiltrate the Southern economy

      2. Southern resistance to encroachment on the part of the North into its traditional lifestyle and economic production


  3. Conclusion: Which will triumph – was it a foregone conclusion? 

Informal Outline

Introduction and Thesis: the causes of the Civil War were all a part of a larger conflict – who is superior, the federal government or the rights of states.

Body Paragraphs: Three specific causes of the War

  1. Slavery: the conflict is based upon the economic differences between the North and the South and the south’s dependence upon slave labor. The other issue was moral – does someone have the right to own another human being?

  2. Commerce: As the U.S. became more industrialized, there was an issue of trade and commerce among the states and with foreign countries. The federal government became more and ore involved in trade and commerce and the Southern states believed this violated their rights.

  3. Lifestyles: North becoming more industrialized and never relied upon non-paid labor, but used immigrants at low pay. The South did not have any significant influx of immigrants and wanted to keep its agrarian lifestyle without industrialization. Attempts by northern industrialists to bring their lifestyles into the south were resented and resisted.


Conclusion: each of these three specific conflicts really revolved around the larger single conflict of power of the federal government vs. the rights of states to determine their own laws, values, and lifestyles.

Either one of these outline formats will work and are a matter of personal choice.

Сrafting that outline for a 5-paragraph essay is very basic and simple. Be certain that you have a solid introduction with your thesis statement, 3 paragraphs that include the three most important points you need to support your thesis, and a conclusion that ties it all together in some way. If you do this, you can’t go wrong.

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