Writers frequently use outlines to plan and organize their thoughts as part of the writing process. Having an outline to work from can make writing your paper much easier. Your paper will also be more organized, making it easier to understand.
Of the two main outline types, the sentence outline and topic outline, the topic outline is arguably more intuitive to write and more frequently used. A topic outline, also called an APA-style outline, can dramatically improve the structure of your finished paper.
Write Your Thesis of Your Topic Outline
Write the thesis of your paper at the top of the page. The thesis should represent the overarching theme or idea of your paper and should be written as a complete sentence. For instance, your thesis might appear:
Thesis: Cats are easier to care for than dogs.
List Your Main Points
Underneath the thesis, write each of your main points in the order they will appear in your final paper, headed with a Roman numeral. The main points will eventually become paragraphs or sections of your paper. Because you are writing a topic outline, each entry in the outline should be a short phrase rather than a complete sentence. List a minimum of two points. Your outline should now be in this format:
Thesis: Cats are easier to care for than dogs. I. Feeding II. Exercise
Organize Your Points Under Subheadings
Subdivide each point with at least two subheadings. These subheadings can be either organizational or informational and should be fragments rather than complete sentences. Precede each subheading with a capital letter and indent before each entry. Your APA-style outline should now appear (although it does not show it in this article, the subheadings should be indented):
Thesis: Cats are easier to care for than dogs. I. Feeding A. Dogs B. Cats II. Exercise A. Dogs B. Cats
Divide Your Headings into Smaller Ideas
Subdivide each subheading further. These subheadings will generally be informational and should be fragments rather than sentences. Indent twice before each entry and head each one with an Arabic numeral (the indentations do not show below). Include at least two points for each subheading. Your APA-style outline should now appear:
Thesis: Cats are easier to care for than dogs. I. Feeding A. Dogs 1. Cannot be free fed 2. Consume more food per weight than cats B. Cats 2. Usually free fed 2. Consume less food per weight than dogs II. Exercise and Health A. Dogs 1. Must be taken for walks 2. Require lots of outdoor play time B. Cats 1. Do not need walks 2. Can be taken outside or kept indoors
Go Into Deeper Detail
Subdivide each point again, if necessary. This level may or may not be used, depending on the length of the paper and the degree of detail. To add entries at this level, indent three times and head each entry with a lower case letter.
- USC Libraries: Research Guides — Preparing to Write
- Georgia Tech Library: Georgia Tech Library Research Guides Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide 4b. Outline the Paper Search this Guide Search this Guide Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide: 4b. Outline the Paper
- University of Richmond Writing Center: Creating Outlines