How to Write an Outline

Outlining is an important study tactic to learn for organizing your thoughts and information. Knowing how to outline will help you take better notes and study more effectively. Some professors even require outlines before rough drafts of important research papers and other writing assignments.

What is the Purpose of an Outline?

An outline basically “lays out” your notes, thoughts and information in a hierarchical style. Outlines are usually used to help students organize their thoughts and their notes before writing an essay or research paper. By outlining before starting on a paper, you will find it will be easier to write and will flow better.


The thesis or main idea should be the first section of the outline. Since the thesis is usually the introductory paragraph of your paper, it only makes sense that it comes first in your outline. By having your thesis first, you can use this to build the main points of your paper.

Main Points and Ideas

You will have main points and ideas that support your thesis. These will come in the next section of your outline. If you are writing an argumentative paper then your argumentative points would go in this section. If you are defending your thesis, you would put all of the reasons supporting the thesis in this section as well. This is usually the middle or the “chunk” of your outline, which ultimately will be the bulk of your paper as well.


Usually you will end your paper with a closing paragraph. This usually sums up your thesis and ties in all your main ideas. In this paragraph you would bring the whole paper together. This is usually the last section of your outline.

How to Construct the Outline

Each section listed above should be labeled with a Roman numeral, ie: I, II, III, IV etc. Each subcategory within each section should be given a capital letter, ie: A, B, C, D etc. The ideas and points in the subcategory should use numbers ie: 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. Any points after that should use lower case letters, ie: a, b, c, d.


II.     Section 1
    A.   Point made
    B.   Another point made
        1.   supports the point made above
            a.   additional support

Tips for Creating an Outline

  1. Try to keep your outline logical and in order. This will help you construct your paper in a way that makes sense and will help it flow better.
  2. Keep your outlines for reference in the future. Use them as study guides for exams.
  3. If you need help developing an outline for a research paper, check in with the writing center on campus.

Remember, an efficient well-planned outline will make for an easy paper to write.

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