Teachers frequently encourage students to construct outlines when beginning a paper because of the helpful nature of outlines. According to Purdue University, outlines can be used to show a hierarchy of information, organize information logically, keep track of large amounts of information, and illustrate relationships among various ideas. Still, some students do not know how to effectively write an outline. Presenting students with an outline sample will help them to construct their own outlines.

Decide the type of outline for the sample. Depending upon the purpose of the outline, one outline format may be more effective than another. According to the Purdue University Writing Lab, alphanumeric outlines are the most common. This outline type makes use of Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numbers, and lowercase letters to organize information. Information is usually written with brief notes and incomplete sentences. Other outline types include full sentence outlines and decimal outlines. Full sentence outlines use complete sentences and decimal outlines show how each part of the outline relates to the outline as a whole.

Identify a simple outline topic. Using a simple topic for the outline will help students to focus mainly on the outline format and not the outline content. Present the topic in the same way the paper topics will be presented so that the students can clearly see the connection between the outline sample and the outlines they will be asked to create at a later date. An example of a simple outline topic could be, "What are three of the most popular television shows today?" While you may not use this topic for an assigned paper, it is simple enough to illustrate the creation of and different parts to an outline.

Create the outline. After you have decided on the type of outline and the outline topic, create the sample outline by writing in appropriate information. According to the University of Washington, outlines should move from broad to specific information; in other words, the main points are broad while subcategories under each main point are more specific. Using the example from Step 2, identify three popular television shows as main points and add subcategories under each one to provide reasons why the shows are popular.