While MLA style does not officially require an outline, many teachers do. Sometimes they will ask that these outlines appear in your finished document. The purpose of an outline is to help you plan and organize your finished paper. If you follow guidelines for formal outlining, you will have the required information needed to create the finished work. A formal outline also gives your reader an overview of your report's structure.

Thesis

Before you can plan a report, you must know the main idea or argument you will present. This is called the thesis. To represent your thesis in an outline, write the label "Thesis:" on the first line of your page, then next to it, write your thesis. It will look like this:

Thesis: The purpose of an outline is to help you plan and organize your finished paper.

Break Down Information

When you outline, you break the information down into smaller, more usable chunks. Different types of information go on specific levels in a way that creates a logical order. These levels are created by indenting certain lines and labeling them with a different type of number or letter. Similar bits of information on different levels are organized together so that later they form into paragraphs or sections.

Level One: Topics

The first level is for paragraph or section topics. They are labeled with Roman numerals, followed by a period, and are not indented. The topics are often written in complete sentences that will lead the paragraph or section. It will look like this:

I. The first level is for paragraph or section topics.

Level Two: Supporting Details

The second level is for supporting details. They are labeled with capital letters followed by a period, and are indented one time. The supporting details are usually not written in sentences. Instead, they look like notes. It will look like this:

I. The second level is for supporting details. A. labeled w/capital letters B. indent once C. note form

Level Three: Finer Details

The third level is for finer details. Sometimes one of the supporting details needs more explanation that do not fit easily in a short note. If this is the case, don't write a long note that takes up multiple lines. Instead, use the third level. This level is labeled with an Arabic numeral followed by a period, and is indented two times. It will look like this:

I. The third level is for finer details. A. Support needs more explanation 1. will not fit in one note 2. do not write a long note

Additional Levels

These three levels are usually enough for basic outlines. However, if you discover that even your finer details need more explanation you can continue adding an indent and label with lower case letters, then numbers in parenthesis.