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How To Write An Argumentative Essay Outline

Having a solid structure is infinitely important when it comes to writing an argumentative essay. If your essay isn’t well organized, you’ll have a difficult time presenting your arguments or ideas in a logical and digestible way. 

That’s why it’s always a good idea to create an effective outline for your argumentative essay before sitting down to write a draft. 

What is an argumentative essay? 

An argumentative essay is one of the four main types of essays you will be asked to write throughout nearly every level of education. 

When assigned to write an argumentative essay, you’ll typically be asked to take a side of a topic or debate. Your goal is then to convince your reader that your position is valid. 

Let’s say, for example, the topic is: “Do Division 1 athletes deserve to be paid?” If your position is yes, you need to create an essay full of facts and statistics that defend your position. 

When writing an argumentative essay, you want to stick to the facts and try to leave emotion out. Remember, your goal is not necessarily to persuade the reader to agree with you, but instead, to prove that your position is sound and worth considering. 

What should you do before writing your outline?

The first step to creating an argumentative essay is to research, research, and research. You absolutely need good, compelling evidence to support your position. Without evidence, your essay has no sustenance. 

From there, you need to take a moment to organize the notes and thoughts you gained from your research in a way that supports your overall argument. 

A good argumentative essay includes at least three main points. For example, if you’re constructing an essay to argue the position that Division 1 athletes should be paid, your three main points could be: 

  • Division 1 institutions often profit off of their athletes, but athletes see no money in return.  
  • Division 1 athletes don’t have time to work because the sport they play is essentially a full-time job.
  • Many Division 1 athletes come from low-income households, so their parents can’t always send them money for food and housing. 

Each point you make will serve as the topic sentence of a body paragraph. But, you also need at least four more sentences worth of material to complete each body paragraph. So, before you even sit down to write your outline, group your notes into independent categories that could serve as “supporting details” to reinforce your topic sentences. 

UNC Chapel Hill’s writing center suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • “Do some of my notes naturally cluster together?”
  • “How many clusters are there?”
  • “Which ideas are more important or general?”
  • “Which ones are more like supporting details?”
  • “What order should the ideas be in?”

*A word to the wise: As far as ordering your body paragraphs, your most compelling point should be made in the first body paragraph. The second best point should be made in the paragraph after that, and so on.

Structure of an argumentative essay outline

I. Introduction 

A. The hook

The argumentative essay should start with a hook, which should be a fact, a rhetorical question, or an intriguing sentence that sucks the reader in and makes them want to continue reading.

Sticking with the argument that Division 1 athletes deserve to be paid, your hook could be a fact revealing how much money the University of Alabama’s football team brings in each year, for example.

B. List your main points

Right after the hook, you should introduce your main points. The body of your essay is where you will provide detail and further explain these points. Here, though, each point should be introduced in no more than one or two sentences.

C. Thesis statement

The last sentence of your introduction is where you should succinctly state your argument. Make sure the reader knows what side you’re taking. It is worth noting, though, that you shouldn’t let your emotions seep into your thesis statement or anywhere in your essay. Remember, argumentative essays are supposed to be built upon facts.

II. Body 

In the body of your argumentative essay is where you should break it all down. All the statements you made in the introduction should be further explained here. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence and be followed by supporting sentences. You should organize your body paragraphs in the same order that you introduced your points in the introductory paragraph. 

A. Paragraph 1

Topic sentence: Division 1 institutions often profit off of their athletes, but athletes aren’t paid a living wage. 

  • Supporting evidence 1: In 2018, the University of Alabama made nearly $11 million in profits from athletics.
  • Supporting evidence 2: The NCAA makes more than $1 billion annually because of student-athletes.
  • Supporting evidence 3: All types of industries, including college bookstores, profit off of student-athletes’ names/likenesses. (include data about jersey sales, etc.).

B. Paragraph 2

Topic sentence: Division 1 athletes don’t have time to work because the sport they play is essentially a full-time job.

  • Supporting evidence 1: Division 1 football players spend an average of 44.8 hours per week on athletics. 
  • Supporting evidence 2: Student-athletes spend nearly 40 hours a week on academics.  

C. Paragraph 3

Topic sentence: Many Division 1 athletes come from low-income households, so their parents can’t always send them money for food and housing.

  • Supporting evidence 1: 86 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line.
  • Supporting evidence 2: Nearly 25 percent of all NCAA Division I student-athletes were food-insecure in fall 2019.

D. Paragraph 4 – Addressing the opposite side

After you’ve finished making your points, many teachers and professors will ask that you add another paragraph that mentions the counter-arguments and provides your evidence against them. This shows that you’ve thought long and hard about the topic before coming up with your final position. 

  • First opposing viewpoint: Many Division 1 athletes are essentially being paid because they’re getting scholarships to play sports.

Rebuttal: There are many costs of college other than tuition, such as food costs. And if athletes don’t have time to get a job because they are at practice, they can’t afford food.

  • Second opposing viewpoint: It would ruin the spirit of college sports because athletes would be playing for contracts, not to win. 

Rebuttal: Division 1 sports, specifically football and basketball, are already essentially businesses. The only people not profiting are the players. 

III. Conclusion

A. Restate your thesis

Restate your thesis in a way that brings your essay to a natural conclusion. You want the reader to think about your position as something that deserves attention.

B. Summarize main points

After you restate your conclusion, you want to summarize your main points. But, don’t simply rewrite the topic sentences from your body paragraphs. Instead, subtly remind the reader why your points are important to consider.

C. Remind the reader why your argument is worthwhile

Again, argumentative essays are all about validating a position or side to an argument. So, in the final sentence or two of your essay, you want to leave a lasting impression. Like the hook, the last sentence should be a noteworthy and memorable fact, rhetorical question, or statement. 

In summary

Although it can feel like busywork at times, outlining is an essential part of creating a compelling argumentative essay. Without an outline, your writing runs the risk of lacking structure. So don’t underestimate the importance of your outline, and certainty do not skip over it. Take time before the writing process to outline, and it will save you the frustration of having to extensively edit and revise after you’re finished.