How to Write an Outline in MLA Format

An outline can keep you on task and help you stay organized.
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Many instructors assign outlines in high school and college writing classes to help students get their ideas together before writing an essay. An outline can be beneficial as you write because it keeps you on task and helps you stay organized. Modern Language Association format outlines follow a specific and formal structure. They include many different levels of information; each level has a specific meaning and should include a specific type of information.

Type the word “Thesis” at the top of the page, followed by a colon, and then type your thesis statement.

Use Roman numerals -- I, II, III, IV, V and others -- to signal main headings. Follow each Roman numeral by a period and a space before you enter the heading. Include a minimum of three main headings in the outline. Each main heading should represent a paragraph in the essay, so each should relate directly to the thesis. The main heading should state the paragraph’s main point. Arrange main headings in the order that the paragraphs will be written in your essay.

Denote subdivisions with capital letters. Follow each with a period and a space, and then enter the subdivision. There must be a minimum of two subdivisions for each main heading. Subdivisions are used to further explain and support the main headings.

Divide the subdivisions, if needed, by typing a number -- 1, 2 and so on -- on the first line of classification of a subdivision. Use lowercase letters to further divide these lines.

Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Ark. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her work has been published at, Arkansas Times, Aging Arkansas and Arkansas Business.