Do You Have to Write Complete Sentences in an Outline in MLA Format?

Outlines are good for all seasons, and can be useful before beginning any major project.
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Writing an outline can be a great way to organize your essay before you begin to write it. However, it can be confusing determining how your outline should look, and whether or not MLA Style requires complete sentences.

1 Writing Outlines

MLA Style does not require you to use complete sentences, and offers no specific format for outlines. However, the MLA Handbook does offer some suggestions for outline format, including both topic outlines and sentence outlines.

Topic outlines do not use complete sentences, and typically follow a structure of Roman numerals representing main ideas for paragraphs, upper-case letters indicating primary support for the main ideas, then standard numbers (if necessary) to represent specific parts of your support and lower-case letters (if necessary) to represent additional information for the specific parts of your support. Here is an example of a partial outline:

I. Introduction

II. Psychology of student writing A. Motivation 1. Unsure of how to begin a. Confusion about organizing ideas B. Study Habits 1. Social time versus study time a. Effect of social networks on study

A sentence outline often follows this same format, but you would use complete sentences instead of the incomplete sentence "topics." This can save you time when writing the essay, as you may be able to use the same sentences in your final essay.

Please remember to check with your instructor to see if they have a preference or require a format for outlines.

Dr. Chris Snellgrove is a writing specialist, and a veteran of everything from a book-length dissertation to a newspaper editor's desk. He has produced work for academic, business, creative, and non-profit endeavors.