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Outlining, Writing, and MLA Formatting a Five Paragraph Essay

Updated on September 5, 2014

So you got an essay, eh?

Your teacher just surprised you and your class with an assignment to write an essay. While the rest of the class scratches their heads and nervously chews their pencils wondering how they’re going to overcome this monster assignment, you begin to write a paper that will easily earn you an A…at least for the formatting and flow. How do you do this? It’s simple. You use the five paragraph format.

The beginning... an outline.

The five paragraph format is easy to use and quick to make work. It doesn't even have to be five paragraphs really. It can be as long or as short as you like but still provides the basics for any essay you have to write. To keep it simple we'll use the basic outline:

Thesis 1:













Thesis 2:

It starts with the first step

First, you start with your topic sentence or thesis statement. The reason you start with the topic sentence is simple: it’s easier to write when you know what you’re writing about. The thesis sums up your entire essay in one go. It has to have your topic and three supporting arguments. Something important to remember when coming up with this is that you want to keep it short, sweet, and simple. Example: Shakespeare’s writings have endured the ages because of his draw upon human emotions, psychology, and social relations. Now the reader knows that your essay topic is Shakespeare and how his writings have continued to be popular. They also know that your essay will include the supporting arguments of the reasons why his writing has persevered. In this case those are how he connects to people in those three different ways.

Make your arguments heard

Next you’ll work on your arguments and sub-arguments. You can have as many of these as you want but generally, to make sure you’ve got a well-rounded argument, you’ll have at least three arguments and three sub-arguments for every one of those. You’ll take your arguments from the thesis statement and make each into its own sentence. Think, “How am I going to prove that this is a valid claim?” Example: Every human experiences emotions; therefore, when Shakespeare has his characters experience a myriad of passions it makes them more relatable to readers regardless of what century it is. This draws upon what is stated in the thesis but expounds upon it a little more. The sub-arguments are going to elaborate upon each argument even more. Try to flesh out every argument point fully using at least one example either directly, text stated from a source other than yourself, or indirectly, by summarizing another source. DON’T use only direct or only indirect examples. Make sure to switch it up and explain how every example supports your argument.

How to End

A good strong ending to the essay would be your second thesis statement. This will serve to bring it all together and finish with the last thing the reader sees being what the point of it all was. It’s kind of like ending the essay with a solid bang. Done. This is what I have to say.

Thesis statement II

Last in the outline, comes the second thesis. This is basically reminding the reader what the essay was all about and tying everything up with a pretty, literary, bow. The second thesis should include the topic and the three supporting arguments, just like the first, but must be stated in a different way. Example: Because of how he connects to readers on emotional, psychological, and social levels, Shakespeare continues to be beloved by many readers today.

Flesh it out

Now that you have the outline completed you can put the finishing touches on your creation and really flesh it out. The way to do this is by making sure that it flows. You never want to give your reader a jarring jump when going from one paragraph to the other. It throws them off kilter and makes the experience (and your grade as a result) less pleasant. Smooth transitions happen all the time in daily life while you’re talking to another person. All you have to do here is find a way to make it happen on paper. Example: Shakespeare also shows how a change in a person’s psychological state may affect their social standing. Social ranking is still an important factor in everyday life and movement in these rankings is something readers of all eras will understand. These two sentences blend both the psychological and social ranking arguments together and allows for a soft flow from one paragraph into the next all the while lightly touching again on the topic. Each argument paragraph should have two transition sentences. One in the beginning and one at the end. The two thesis paragraphs should have one transition sentence each.

At the end everything you've written for your outline should make up a majority of your paper. Add the transition sentences and you'll be mostly set as far as content goes.

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MLA Formatting

Now, as for the formatting of the essay, that part is the fastest to do. With MLA formatting everything has to:

  • be twelve point Times New Roman font
  • be double spaced
  • have one inch margins on all sides
  • only put one space after all punctuation marks, unless your teacher tells you otherwise.
  • put your last name and page number at the top right hand side of the page in the header (make sure there is a space between your name and the page number).
  • tab at each new paragraph.
  • if you’ve any endnotes, put them on their own page before your Works Cited page. Title it as “Notes”.

For the very first page before you put the title of your essay on the left side of the page put:

  • your name
  • the teacher’s name
  • the class
  • the date

Enter twice and then type your essay title.

Two enters again and then the actual essay begins.

For help with the work cited visit . All you have to do there is type in all your information and they will automatically format it for you to paste onto your work cited page as well as how to correctly site it in your essay.

Example of first page MLA format


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    • profile image

      Robert 3 years ago

      Thanks a lot Maegan! These steps are very helpful.

    • Maegan Bandmann profile image

      Maegan Bandmann 3 years ago from Minnesota, USA


      The running header in an MLA essay is your name and page number. To do this is takes four simple steps.

      Step 1 - Select Insert Header

      Step 2 - Click on Header. From the box that appears, go to the bottom and select Edit Header.

      Step 3 - Select Page Number, Top of page and from the list given, choose the page number that is top right.

      Step 4 - The number one (1) will appear on your page to the right. Type your last name and then hit the space bar one time to insert one space. Close the Header box using the top right toolbar link.

      As for any other tips:

      Make sure to read your essay out loud to check for fluidity.

      If English is your second language have a peer check it.

      Good luck!

    • profile image

      Robert 3 years ago

      Hi Maegan! You have succinctly give outlined the idea of essay writing. I am completely unknown to the MLA guidelines and rules. I would appreciate more if you could suggest me on somethings:

      1) I would like to know whether or not any running header would come in an MLA format of writing?

      2) Can you share some more checkpoints that I shall use?

      Initially I planned to prepare the essay as per and get some external help for its editing and formatting. My friend even suggested me a firm: but now I think online and offline resources for MLA can be used to complete the same.

      I would though need your help too. Hope to see your reply soon! Thanks in advance!