How to Write an Outline

An outline is a road map of your book or paper. It organizes your thoughts, the points and the ideas you want to make. There is a specific structure to an outline.  An outline breaks down the parts of your thesis in a clear, hierarchical manner. Most students find that writing an outline before beginning the paper is most helpful in organizing one’s thoughts. If your outline is good, your paper should be easy to write.

No matter what the purpose of your writing, the structure of your outline should be consistent throughout the project. Maintaining consistency helps you determine if your points are put in logical and easy-to-follow order. Once your outline is complete, writing the paper consists primarily of filling in the blanks and tying your points together. It also helps when you review your outline to make sure you have put in everything you intended to.

The best way to start your outline is to put down your main points. The standard here is to use Roman numerals. Points you want to make that support your main points are sub points. These points are noted by using capital letters. The process continues until all the sub points have found a home and all major points have sub points supporting them.  If you follow this blueprint, your ideas will flow smoothly.

The basic format for an outline uses an alternating series of numbers and letters, indented accordingly, to indicate levels of importance.

The thesis is stated in the first section, which is the introduction.

The body follows the introduction, and breaks down the points the author wishes to make.

Note that some section have subdivisions, others do not, depending on the demands of the paper.

Sections II, III, & IV have a similar structure, but this will not necessarily be true for all papers. Some may only have three major sections, others more than five.

Your conclusion should restate your thesis, and never introduce new material.

Rules for Outlining:

1. Subdivide topics by a system of numbers and letters, followed by a period.

Example:

I.

A.

B.

1.

2.

a.

b.

II.

A.

B.

2. Each heading and subheading must have at least two parts.

3. Headings for parts of the paper, such as Introduction and Conclusion, should not be used.

4. Be consistent.  Use either whole sentences of brief phrases, but not both.