How to Write an Outline for a Thesis Paper in Chicago Style

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Many thesis writers start by organizing their thoughts and research using an outline. The outline acts as the skeleton that your completed paper will flesh out. It will also help you stay on track while writing and narrow down your research ideas. The "Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition" has a specific style you should follow to make your outline.

1 Choose a Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is the most important part of the entire paper, and everything you assert in the body of your paper should support your thesis. Your thesis should be precise and concise and tell the reader why your ideas are important. All of the points in your outline should reflect what's found in your thesis. The points of your outlines do not need to be in complete sentences, so they do not require punctuation. You should, however, capitalize at the start of each point.

2 Use Roman Numerals to State Main Points

Start your outline with a Roman numeral “I” and a period. Your first Roman numeral should be your thesis statement. Roman numerals indicate important points that support your thesis. Each Roman numeral will end up being a new paragraph in your paper. Every Roman numeral you use should be on its own line.

3 Use Capital Letters to Support Ideas

Capital letters followed by periods will support the ideas stated in your main points. Use capital letters underneath the Roman numeral when listing these ideas. Your idea must support the Roman numeral it is under, which in turn will support the thesis. You must indent one space past the Roman numerals for the capital letters.

4 Decide How Many Subsequent Categories Are Needed

When outlining a thesis paper, you will likely need more categories to demonstrate your ideas. The "Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition" has a precise format you need to follow when structuring these subordinate ideas. After a capital letter, drop down a line, indent, and use regular, or Arabic, numbers followed by a period. Below this, use lowercase letters followed by a period and then lowercase letters followed by one parenthesis. This is followed by numbers enclosed by double parentheses, lowercase letters enclosed by double parentheses and, finally, lowercase Roman numerals followed by a single parenthesis.

Michael Green graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the country, the University of Missouri, where he also received his master's degree in education. Green has taught creative writing, journalism and health and has been published in "Body Balance," "Alive" and "PUSH Monthly."