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  • College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines

College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines

Published on September 24, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on May 31, 2023.

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay, but you should carefully plan and outline to make sure your essay flows smoothly and logically.

Typical structural choices include

  • a series of vignettes with a common theme
  • a single story that demonstrates your positive qualities

Table of contents

Formatting your essay, outlining the essay, structures that work: two example outlines, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

You should keep the formatting as simple as possible. Admissions officers need to work very quickly, so fancy formatting, unnecessary flourishes, and unique fonts will come off as more distracting than individual. Keep in mind that, if you’re pasting your essay into a text box, formatting like italics may not transfer.

Your essay will be easier for admissions officers to read if it is 1.5- or double-spaced. If you choose to attach a file, ensure that it is a PDF.

You don’t need a title for your essay, but you can include one, especially if you think it will add something important.

Most importantly, ensure that you stick to the word count. Most successful essays are 500–600 words. Because you’re limited in length, make sure that you write concisely . Say everything that you need to express to get your point across, but don’t use more words than necessary, and don’t repeat yourself.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Once you’ve finished brainstorming topics but before you start writing, think about your writing’s trajectory: how you’ll start the essay , develop it, and end it .

Do you want to organize it chronologically? Would you prefer to make a “sandwich” structure by introducing a topic or idea, moving away from it, and then coming back to it at the end? There’s a variety of options (and a pair of strong examples below), but make sure you consider how you’d like to structure the essay before you start writing.

Although you should organize your thoughts in an outline, you don’t have to stick to it strictly. Once you begin writing, you may find that the structure you’d originally chosen doesn’t quite work. In that case, it’s fine to try something else. Multiple drafts of the same essay are key to a good final product.

Whatever structure you choose, it should be clear and easy to follow, and it should be feasible to keep it within the  word count . Never write in a way that could confuse the reader. Remember, your audience will not be reading your essay closely!

Vignettes with a common theme

The vignette structure discusses several experiences that may seem unrelated, but the author weaves them together and unites them with a common theme.

For example, a student could write an essay exploring various instances of their ability to make the best of bad situations. A rough outline for that essay might look like this:

  • In a rehearsal for a school play when a lighting fixture malfunctioned and the set caught fire, I helped extinguish it.
  • To help the situation, I improvised fixes for the set and talked with the director about adding lines referencing the “disaster.”
  • I didn’t get into my first-choice high school, but I became class president at the school where I ended up.
  • When I had ACL surgery, I used the downtime to work on my upper body strength and challenged my friends to pull-up contests.
  • How these qualities will serve me in college and in my career

Single story that demonstrates traits

The narrative structure focuses on a single overarching story that shows many aspects of a student’s character.

Some such essays focus on a relatively short event that the author details moment by moment, while others discuss the story of a longer journey, one that may cover months or years.

For example, a student might discuss trying out for a sports team as a middle schooler, high school freshman, and high school senior, using each of those instances to describe an aspect of their personality. A rough outline for that essay might look like this:

  • Confident, there to have fun
  • Very passionate and in love with the sport
  • Little sister was born that day, so I had to go alone with a friend’s parents
  • Learned to be independent and less self-centered
  • Realized that as much as I love gymnastics, there are more important things
  • Gave up first homecoming of high school, had to quit other activities, lost countless hours with friends
  • I had to repeat level 9 and didn’t progress quickly
  • I had a terrible beam routine at one competition the previous year and still had a mental block
  • I got stuck on some skills, and it took over a year to learn them
  • Passion from age 7, perspective from age 11, diligence from age 15

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

  • Use a standard, readable font
  • Use 1.5 or double spacing
  • If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
  • Stick to the word count
  • Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Testa, M. (2023, May 31). College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines. Scribbr. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/format-outline-structure/

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Home / Guides / Writing Guides / Parts of a Paper / How to Write an Essay Outline

How to Write an Essay Outline

It’s 11 p.m., your paper is due tomorrow, and you’re only about halfway done. You’re typing along and when you realize that, wait…you’re actually not a huge fan of your argument or the supporting examples you’re using. Your options are to haphazardly keep writing or to backtrack and rehash what you’ve already done. Ugh. Unsurprisingly, both options aren’t great.

This scenario is scary, but totally avoidable! Though it’s tempting to just start writing, one of the best steps you can take before you type a single word is to create an outline for your paper. By taking the time to write a paper outline, you can prevent the scenario above and make your writing process a cinch!

Guide Overview

What is a paper outline, why it’s worth writing an outline.

  • Step 1: gather your relevant materials
  • Step 2: create your thesis
  • Step 3: find examples
  • Step 4: analyze your examples
  • Step 5: arrange your examples

A paper outline is a skeletal version of your paper. Another way to think about an outline is to view it as a roadmap. An outline helps you organize and streamline your thoughts ahead of time. By front loading this work, you allow the eventual writing process to be much easier: instead of having to backtrack and see if your paper makes sense, you can refer to your outline and be rest assured that you’re on the right track.

It’s understandable if you think it’s not worth the time to write an outline. After all, writing a paper in itself is a lot of work – why add an extra step?

Here’s the secret: creating an outline and then writing your paper takes about the same amount of time as jumping straight into writing your paper. Why? By immediately writing, you run the risk of having to go back and see if the flow of your paper makes sense. Backtracking takes up a lot of time: having to go back and revise your paper because you missed a point can be a pain.

Taking the time to outline your paper gives you the space to see what arguments work, which examples to include, and more. Doing this prep work ahead of time prevents you from having to do it while in the middle of your paper. Your completed outline serves as a solid reference as you write your assignment. In an ideal world, your outline should be so thorough that the writing process is essentially just you converting your bullet points into sentences that flow together!

How to outline a paper

Step 1: gather your relevant materials.

The first step to take when outlining a paper is to gather all your relevant materials. If you’re writing a paper about a book you’re reading in class, start thinking about which passages from the book are relevant to your prompt. If you’re writing a paper about a broader topic, identify what sources you’ll need to construct your argument.

Pro tip: Avoid plagiarism and keep track of the sources you’re using at EasyBib.com! Easily create an APA or MLA format citation , try out our Chicago citation generator , and find help for other citation styles.

Step 2: Create your thesis

After you’ve compiled your materials, start thinking about your thesis statement. Revisit your assignment prompt, peruse your materials, and determine what your viewpoint is regarding the prompt.

Step 3: Find examples

Once you have your thesis, come up with ways to support it. Identify the quotes you need or the arguments you want to utilize in order to bolster your thesis.

Step 4: Analyze Your Examples

Write 3-4 bullet points connecting your examples to your thesis. The analysis part of your paper is the meat of your paper, so feel free to take as much time as you want during this step.

Step 5: Arrange Your Examples

Now that you have your examples and analysis, arrange them in a logical way that helps you develop and support your thesis. This is the step in which you can start copying and pasting your notes into an outline that mimics the flow of your paper. By the end of this step, you should have a solid outline!

Here’s a template for a five paragraph essay you can use for your papers moving forward:

Paper outline example

Before you jump into writing your paper, it might pay to take a quick look at our EasyBib grammar guides . Discover what an abstract noun is, read a determiner definition , see the difference between regular and irregular verbs , and get familiar with other parts of speech.

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Writing a paper: outlining, outlining strategies.

Outlining your first draft by listing each paragraph's topic sentence can be an easy way to ensure that each of your paragraphs is serving a specific purpose in your paper.  You may find opportunities to combine or eliminate potential paragraphs when outlining—first drafts often contain repetitive ideas or sections that stall, rather than advance, the paper's central argument .

Additionally, if you are having trouble revising a paper, making an outline of each paragraph and its topic sentence after you have written your paper can be an effective way of identifying a paper's strengths and weaknesses.

Example Outline

The following outline is for a 5-7 page paper discussing the link between educational attainment and health. Review the other sections of this page for more detailed information about each component of this outline!

I. Introduction

A. Current Problem: Educational attainment rates are decreasing in the United States while healthcare costs are increasing. B. Population/Area of Focus: Unskilled or low-skilled adult workers C. Key Terms:   healthy, well-educated   Thesis Statement: Because of their income deficit (cite sources) and general susceptibility to depression (cite sources), students who drop out of high school before graduation maintain a higher risk for physical and mental health problems later in life.

II. Background

A. Historical Employment Overview: Unskilled laborers in the past were frequently unionized and adequately compensated for their work (cite sources). B. Historical Healthcare Overview: Unskilled laborers in the past were often provided adequate healthcare and benefits (cite sources). C. Current Link between Education and Employment Type: Increasingly, uneducated workers work in unskilled or low-skilled jobs (cite sources). D. Gaps in the Research: Little information exists exploring the health implications of the current conditions in low-skilled jobs.

III. Major Point 1:  Conditions of employment affect workers' physical health. 

A. Minor Point 1: Unskilled work environments are correlated highly with worker injury (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Unskilled work environments rarely provide healthcare or adequate injury recovery time (cite sources).

IV. Major Point 2: Conditions of employment affect workers' mental health

A. Minor Point 1: Employment in a low-skilled position is highly correlated with dangerous levels of stress (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Stress is highly correlated with mental health issues (cite sources).

V. Major Point 3: Physical  health and mental health correlate directly with one another.

A. Minor Point 1: Mental health problems and physical health problems are highly correlated (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Stress manifests itself in physical form (cite sources)

VI. Major Point 4: People with more financial worries have more stress and worse physical health.

A. Minor Point 1: Many high-school dropouts face financial problems (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Financial problems are often correlated with unhealthy lifestyle choices such unhealthy food choices, overconsumption/abuse of alcohol, chain smoking, abusive relationships, etc. (cite sources).

VII. Conclusion

A. Restatement of Thesis:  Students who drop out of high school are at a higher risk for both mental and physical health problems throughout their lives. B. Next Steps:  Society needs educational advocates; educators need to be aware of this situation and strive for student retention in order to promote healthy lifestyles and warn students of the risks associated with dropping out of school.

Introduction/Context

Your introduction provides context to your readers to prepare them for your paper's argument or purpose.  An introduction should begin with discussion of your specific topic (not a broad background overview) and provide just enough context (definitions of key terms, for example) to prepare your readers for your thesis or purpose statement.

Sample Introduction/Context: If the topic of your paper is the link between educational attainment and health, your introduction might do the following: (a) establish the population you are discussing, (b) define key terms such as healthy and well-educated , or (c) justify the discussion of this topic by pointing out a connection to a current problem that your paper will help address.

Thesis/Purpose Statement

A thesis or purpose statement should come at the end of your introduction and state clearly and concisely what the purpose or central argument of your paper is. The introduction prepares your reader for this statement, and the rest of the paper follows in support of it.

Sample Thesis Statement: Because of their income deficit (Smith, 2010) and general susceptibility to depression (Jones, 2011), students who drop out of high school before graduation maintain a higher risk for physical and mental health problems later in life.

After the initial introduction, background on your topic often follows. This paragraph or section might include a literature review surveying the current state of knowledge on your topic or simply a historical overview of relevant information. The purpose of this section is to justify your own project or paper by pointing out a gap in the current research which your work will address.

Sample Background: A background section on a paper on education and health might include an overview of recent research in this area, such as research on depression or on decreasing high school graduation rates.

Major & Minor Points

Major points are the building blocks of your paper. Major points build on each other, moving the paper forward and toward its conclusion. Each major point should be a clear claim that relates to the central argument of your paper.

Sample Major Point: Employment and physical health may be a good first major point for this sample paper.  Here, a student might discuss how dropping out of high school often leads to fewer employment opportunities, and those employment opportunities that are available tend to be correlated with poor work environments and low pay.

Minor points are subtopics within your major points. Minor points develop the nuances of your major points but may not be significant enough to warrant extended attention on their own. These may come in the form of statistics, examples from your sources, or supporting ideas.

Sample Minor Point: A sample minor point of the previous major point (employment and physical health) might address worker injury or the frequent lack of health insurance benefits offered by low-paying employers.

The rest of the body of your paper will be made up of more major and minor points. Each major point should advance the paper's central argument, often building on the previous points, until you have provided enough evidence and analysis to justify your paper's conclusion.

More Major and Minor Points: In this paper, more major points might include mental health of high school dropouts, healthcare access for dropouts, and correlation between mental and physical health. Minor topics could include specific work environments, job satisfaction in various fields, and correlation between depression and chronic illness.

Your conclusion both restates your paper's major claim and ties that claim into a larger discussion. Rather than simply reiterating each major and minor point, quickly revisit your thesis statement and focus on ending the paper by tying your thesis into current research in your field, next steps for other researchers, your broader studies, or other future implications.

Sample Conclusion: For this paper, a conclusion might restate the central argument (the link between lack of education and health issues) and go on to connect that discussion to a larger discussion of the U.S. healthcare or education systems.

Outlining Video

Note that this video was created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.

  • Prewriting Demonstrations: Outlining (video transcript)

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How to Outline a College Essay

When writing a college essay , some students take whatever is in their head at the moment, pour it all out on the page, and turn it in.

I'm sure you can sympathize with this method. You might even think that skipping the outline step and going straight into the essay will save time and help you finish this assignment ASAP so you can move on with your life.

All good essays begin with an outline. Once you have brainstormed a topic and some details, it

Unfortunately, there's a problem with this logic. If you skip straight to the essay and forego the planning, it's likely you'll need more time to write, edit, and make sure that your essay includes everything you need.

The best college essays require an outline to help organize your thoughts before you begin to write.

Your outline will help you develop a more organized essay that makes sense and is logical to your reader. It can also help you better develop your ideas and actually save you time in the long run.

What are the steps for creating an outline?

Good news: it's not very difficult to put together an outline for an essay . Here are the basic steps you should follow:

1. Brainstorm and Select a Topic

Start by listing all of the topics you're considering. Don't judge the topics you're writing; just get as many of your thoughts on paper as possible. Set a timer for five minutes and list every topic that pops into your head.

Once you've created a list, look for topics that seem like the best fit for you and the assignment you've been given. Maybe a few topics could even be combined to create one larger, more developed topic.

2. Brainstorm some Supporting Details

Once you've chosen your topic, it's time to see if you have enough details to support this topic. A good, old-fashioned web of ideas can help you see how your thoughts are connected to your main idea.

Write your topic in the middle of a page and circle it. Draw lines and circles out to ideas that support this main topic. Again, don't judge your thoughts; just let them flow. You can narrow them down later. For now, you want to see if this subject is meaty enough to stick with and if you can relate several ideas to the main topic.

3. Label your Ideas. Where would they go in an outline template?

A basic outline format includes an introduction, a body of supporting ideas, and a conclusion. You will eventually take your brainstorm of thoughts and organize this chaos into a neat, orderly outline. This will help you place your ideas in a logical order and help eliminate some ideas that aren't as strong or that don't quite belong in your essay.

Take a look at your thoughts on your web of ideas paper and label them "I" if you think they help introduce your idea, "S" if they are great supporting facts for your main idea, and "C" if you think they help conclude your thoughts. If an idea doesn't seem to fit anywhere, you can put an "X" on it and consider saving it for a later essay.

4. Use an Outline Example to Plot your Essay

If the above steps intimidate you, you can always take a few minutes to look at outline examples to give you a better idea of what you're aiming for.

After you have listed all of your ideas, it

You can even try plugging your thoughts into an outline template . Here's a basic one to get you started:

  • Introduction (usually one paragraph) a) Hook—get your reader's attention b) Preview the main idea c) State your thesis
  • Body of supporting ideas (Usually three paragraphs —one for each main supporting idea) a) Supporting detail #1 (with examples, stories, other details) b) Supporting detail #2 (with examples, stories, other details) c) Supporting detail #3 (with examples, stories, other details)
  • Conclusion (usually one paragraph) a) Restate and reflect on your main idea/thesis b) Tie your ideas together c) Wrap it up in a coherent fashion

5. Start Writing!

Once you've plotted out your thoughts, beginning the writing process will be much smoother and easier for you. Your order is ready, your thoughts are organized, and your details are developed. Most of your essay is already written for you now.

The art of writing a college essay can be overwhelming at first. However, using an outline can help organize your essay in a way that makes it much easier to write and much nicer to read. Taking the time to brainstorm, plot out your thoughts, and place them logically into an outline will pay off in the future as it will save you time and help you create a well-crafted essay.

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How to Write an Outline in APA Format

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

how to write an outline for a college paper

Amanda Tust is a fact-checker, researcher, and writer with a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

how to write an outline for a college paper

  • Before Starting Your Outline
  • How to Create an Outline

Writing a psychology paper can feel like an overwhelming task. From picking a topic to finding sources to cite, each step in the process comes with its own challenges. Luckily, there are strategies to make writing your paper easier—one of which is creating an outline using APA format .

Here we share what APA format entails and the basics of this writing style. Then we get into how to create a research paper outline using APA guidelines, giving you a strong foundation to start crafting your content.

At a Glance

APA format is the standard writing style used for psychology research papers. Creating an outline using APA format can help you develop and organize your paper's structure, also keeping you on task as you sit down to write the content.

APA Format Basics

Formatting dictates how papers are styled, which includes their organizational structure, page layout, and how information is presented. APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Learning the basics of APA format is necessary for writing effective psychology papers, whether for your school courses or if you're working in the field and want your research published in a professional journal. Here are some general APA rules to keep in mind when creating both your outline and the paper itself.

Font and Spacing

According to APA style, research papers are to be written in a legible and widely available font. Traditionally, Times New Roman is used with a 12-point font size. However, other serif and sans serif fonts like Arial or Georgia in 11-point font sizes are also acceptable.

APA format also dictates that the research paper be double-spaced. Each page has 1-inch margins on all sides (top, bottom, left, and right), and the page number is to be placed in the upper right corner of each page.

Both your psychology research paper and outline should include three key sections:

  • Introduction : Highlights the main points and presents your hypothesis
  • Body : Details the ideas and research that support your hypothesis
  • Conclusion : Briefly reiterates your main points and clarifies support for your position

Headings and Subheadings

APA format provides specific guidelines for using headings and subheadings. They are:

  • Main headings : Use Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV)
  • Subheadings: Use capital letters (A, B, C, D)

If you need further subheadings within the initial subheadings, start with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), then lowercase letters (a, b, c), then Arabic numerals inside parentheses [(1), (2), (3)]

Before Starting Your APA Format Outline

While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance. Prior to drafting your psychology research paper outline using APA writing style, taking a few important steps can help set you up for greater success.

Review Your Instructor's Requirements

Look over the instructions for your research paper. Your instructor may have provided some type of guidance or stated what they want. They may have even provided specific requirements for what to include in your outline or how it needs to be structured and formatted.

Some instructors require research paper outlines to use decimal format. This structure uses Arabic decimals instead of Roman numerals or letters. In this case, the main headings in an outline would be 1.0, 1.2, and 1.3, while the subheadings would be 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, and so on.

Consider Your Preferences

After reviewing your instructor's requirements, consider your own preferences for organizing your outline. Think about what makes the most sense for you, as well as what type of outline would be most helpful when you begin writing your research paper.

For example, you could choose to format your headings and subheadings as full sentences, or you might decide that you prefer shorter headings that summarize the content. You can also use different approaches to organizing the lettering and numbering in your outline's subheadings.

Whether you are creating your outline according to your instructor's guidelines or following your own organizational preferences, the most important thing is that you are consistent.

Formatting Tips

When getting ready to start your research paper outline using APA format, it's also helpful to consider how you will format it. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Your outline should begin on a new page.
  • Before you start writing the outline, check that your word processor does not automatically insert unwanted text or notations (such as letters, numbers, or bullet points) as you type. If it does, turn off auto-formatting.
  • If your instructor requires you to specify your hypothesis in your outline, review your assignment instructions to find out where this should be placed. They may want it presented at the top of your outline, for example, or included as a subheading.

How to Create a Research Paper Outline Using APA

Understanding APA format basics can make writing psychology research papers much easier. While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance, your instructor's requirements, and your own personal organizational preferences.

Typically you won't need to turn your outline in with your final paper. But that doesn't mean you should skip creating one. A strong paper starts with a solid outline. Developing this outline can help you organize your writing and ensure that you effectively communicate your paper's main points and arguments. Here's how to create a research outline using APA format.

Start Your Research

While it may seem like you should create an outline before starting your research, the opposite is actually true. The information you find when researching your psychology research topic will start to reveal the information you'll want to include in your paper—and in your outline.

As you research, consider the main arguments you intend to make in your paper. Look for facts that support your hypothesis, keeping track of where you find these facts so you can cite them when writing your paper. The more organized you are when creating your outline, the easier it becomes to draft the paper itself.

If you are required to turn in your outline before you begin working on your paper, keep in mind that you may need to include a list of references that you plan to use.

Draft Your Outline Using APA Format

Once you have your initial research complete, you have enough information to create an outline. Start with the main headings (which are noted using Roman numerals I, II, III, etc.). Here's an example of the main headings you may use if you were writing an APA format outline for a research paper in support of using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety :

  • Introduction
  • What CBT Is
  • How CBT Helps Ease Anxiety
  • Research Supporting CBT for Anxiety
  • Potential Drawbacks of CBT for Anxiety and How to Overcome Them

Under each main heading, list your main points or key ideas using subheadings (as noted with A, B, C, etc.). Sticking with the same example, subheadings under "What CBT Is" may include:

  • Basic CBT Principles
  • How CBT Works
  • Conditions CBT Has Been Found to Help Treat

You may also decide to include additional subheadings under your initial subheadings to add more information or clarify important points relevant to your hypothesis. Examples of additional subheadings (which are noted with 1, 2, 3, etc.) that could be included under "Basic CBT Principles" include:

  • Is Goal-Oriented
  • Focuses on Problem-Solving
  • Includes Self-Monitoring

Begin Writing Your Research Paper

The reason this step is included when drafting your research paper outline using APA format is that you'll often find that your outline changes as you begin to dive deeper into your proposed topic. New ideas may emerge or you may decide to narrow your topic further, even sometimes changing your hypothesis altogether.

All of these factors can impact what you write about, ultimately changing your outline. When writing your paper, there are a few important points to keep in mind:

  • Follow the structure that your instructor specifies.
  • Present your strongest points first.
  • Support your arguments with research and examples.
  • Organize your ideas logically and in order of strength.
  • Keep track of your sources.
  • Present and debate possible counterarguments, and provide evidence that counters opposing arguments.

Update Your Final Outline

The final version of your outline should reflect your completed draft. Not only does updating your outline at this point help ensure that you've covered the topics you want in your paper, but it also gives you another opportunity to verify that your paper follows a logical sequence.

When reading through your APA-formatted outline, consider whether it flows naturally from one topic to the next. You wouldn't talk about how CBT works before discussing what CBT is, for example. Taking this final step can give you a more solid outline, and a more solid research paper.

American Psychological Association. About APA Style .

Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Types of outlines and samples .

Mississippi College. Writing Center: Outlines .

American Psychological Association. APA style: Style and Grammar Guidelines .

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

How to write an outline

An outline presents a picture of the main ideas and the subsidiary ideas of a subject. Some typical uses of outlining might be an essay, a term paper, a book review, or a speech. For any of these, an outline will show a basic overview and important details. It's a good idea to make an outline for yourself even if it isn't required by your professor, as the process can help put your ideas in order.

Some professors will have specific requirements, like requiring the outline to be in sentence form or have a "Discussion" section. A student’s first responsibility, of course, is to follow the requirements of the particular assignment. What follows illustrates only the basics of outlining.

Basic outline form

The main ideas take Roman numerals (I, II, ...) and should be in all-caps. Sub-points under each main idea take capital letters (A, B, ...) and are indented. Sub-points under the capital letters, if any, take Arabic numerals (1, 2, ...) and are further indented. Sub-points under the numerals, if any, take lowercase letters (a, b, ...) and are even further indented.

  • Subsidiary idea or supporting idea to I
  • Subsidiary idea to B
  • Subsidiary idea to 2
  • Subsidiary or supporting idea to II
  • Subsidiary idea to II

It is up to the writer to decide on how many main ideas and supporting ideas adequately describe the subject. However, traditional form dictates that if there is a I in the outline, there has to be a II ; if there is an A , there has to be a B ; and so forth.

Outline example

Suppose you are outlining a speech about gerrymandering, and these are some of the ideas you feel should be included: voter discrimination, "majority-minority" districts, the history of the term, and several Supreme Court cases.

To put these ideas into outline form, decide first on the main encompassing ideas. These might be: I. History of the term, II. Redistricting process, III. Racial aspects, IV. Current events.

Next, decide where the rest of the important ideas fit in. Are they part of the redistricting process, or do they belong under racial aspects? The complete outline might look like this:

Gerrymandering in the U.S.

  • HISTORY OF THE TERM
  • Responsibility of state legislatures
  • Census data
  • Preclearance
  • Partisan approaches
  • Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960)
  • Voter discrimination
  • Voting Rights Act (1965)
  • Majority-minority districts
  • Effects of gerrymandering in 2012 and 2016 elections
  • Gill v. Whitford Supreme Court Case

It is only possible to make an outline if you have familiarity with the subject. As you do research, you may find it necessary to add, subtract or change the position of various ideas. If you change your outline, ensure that logical relationship among ideas is preserved.

Helpful resources

To gain an initial familiarity with your topic, look it up in Gale Virtual Reference Library (a.k.a. "Academic Wikipedia"), a collection of entries from specialized encyclopedias. GVRL provides topic overviews, many of which are organized with an outline themselves.

Further reading

Tardiff, E., and Brizee, A. (2013). Developing an outline . In Purdue OWL . Look at all three sections. The third includes an example.

Lester, J.D., and Lester, Jr., J.D. (2010). Writing research papers: A complete guide (13th ed.). New York: Longman. Includes several models, including for a general-purpose academic paper. Check it out from the Stacks LB2369 .L4 2010.

Turabian, K.L. (2013). A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Request John Jay's copy from the Reference Desk (call number LB2369 .T8 2013).

Created by J. Dunham, 2003. Revised by R. Davis, Oct. 2017.

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How to Write an Outline

Last Updated: February 17, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 3,944,475 times.

An outline is a great way to organize ideas and information for a speech, an essay, a novel, or a study guide based on your class notes. At first, writing an outline might seem complicated, but learning how to do it will give you an essential organizational skill! Start by planning your outline and choosing a structure for it. Then, you can organize your ideas into an easy to understand outline.

Quick Outline Slideshow

Sample outlines.

how to write an outline for a college paper

Planning Your Outline

Step 1 Decide if you will write your outline by hand or type it.

  • Some people process their ideas better when they write them down. Additionally, you can easily draw diagrams or examples, which might help you conceptualize the subject. However, it might take longer to write out your outline, and it won't be as neat.
  • Typing your outline might be easier if your notes are already typed on the computer, as you can just copy and paste them into your outline. Copying and pasting also allows you to easily rearrange your sections, if necessary. Also, it will be easier to copy and paste information from your outline into your paper if you type your outline. On the other hand, it's harder to jot down notes in the margins or draw out organizational diagrams.

Step 2 Narrow down your topic.

  • If you’re working on a creative project, such as a novel, identify your concept, genre, or premise. Then, allow the outlining process to help you structure your work.
  • It’s okay if your topic is somewhat broad when you first start, but you should have a direction. For example, your history paper topic could be French life during the German occupation of France in World War II. As you write your outline, you might narrow this down to the resistance fighters called maquisards .

Step 3 Identify the purpose of your outline, such as inform, entertain or reflect.

  • For a school assignment, review the assignment sheet or talk to your instructor. If the outline is for work, use an existing outline as a model for yours.
  • If you are the only person who will see the outline, you can choose formatting that works for you. For example, you might write your outline in shorthand.

Step 5 Assemble your notes, research or supporting materials, if applicable.

  • Paraphrased ideas
  • Historical facts

Step 6 Brainstorm to identify your argument or main ideas.

  • Freewrite as ideas come to you.
  • Create a mind map .
  • Write your thoughts on index cards.

Step 7 Develop a thesis...

  • For example, you may be writing a paper about policy change. Your thesis might read, “Policy makers should take an incremental approach when making policy changes to reduce conflict, allow adjustments, and foster compromise.” Each of the 3 reasons listed in your thesis will become its own main point in your outline.

Structuring Your Outline

Step 1 Write an alphanumeric outline for the easy approach.

  • Roman Numerals - I, II, III, IV, V
  • Capitalized Letters - A, B, C
  • Arabic Numerals - 1, 2, 3
  • Lowercase Letters - a, b, c
  • Arabic Numerals in Parentheses - (1), (2), (3)

Step 2 Make a decimal outline to highlight the relationship between ideas.

  • 1.1.1 - Each side presents a case before the vote
  • 1.1.2 - Citizens voice their opinion
  • 1.2 - Neither side gets everything they want

Step 3 Decide if you want to write full sentences or short phrases.

  • You might use short phrases to quickly organize your ideas, to outline a speech, or to create an outline that’s just for you.
  • You might use full sentences to make it easier to write a final paper, to make a good study guide, or to fulfill the requirements of an assignment.

Organizing Your Ideas

Step 1 Group your ideas together.

  • If you jotted down your ideas or made a mind map, use different colored highlighters to identify ideas that belong in the same group.
  • Sort your index cards, if you used them to brainstorm. Put cards with related ideas together. For example, you can put them in stacks, or you can line your cards out in rows to make them easier to read.

Step 2 Put each group in order from broad ideas to specific details.

  • For example, your main point might be that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein champions emotion over reason. Your subpoints might be that Victor Frankenstein is restored by nature and that his scientific efforts create a monster. As supporting details, you might include quotes from the book.
  • If you're writing a story or presenting a historical argument, a chronological order makes sense. For an essay or speech, pick the subtopic with the most supporting materials, and lead with this argument. From there, order your major subtopics so each one naturally flows into the next.
  • Your broad ideas should connect back to your thesis or controlling idea. If they don’t, rewrite your thesis to reflect the main ideas you’re putting into your outline.

Step 3 Outline your introduction as the first main point for a speech or essay.

  • Hook to grab the audience
  • 1-2 general statements about your topic

Step 4 Create your body headings, if you haven’t already.

  • Phrase outline: II. Frankenstein champions emotion over reason
  • Full sentence outline: II. In Frankenstein , Mary Shelley champions the use of emotion over reason.

Step 5 Write at least 2 subpoints for each main idea.

  • Depending on the purpose of your outline, you might have more subpoints. For example, a novel may have many subpoints. Similarly, a study guide will likely have several subpoints, as well.

Step 6 Add at least 2 supporting details for each subpoint.

  • In an essay, this is often where you “prove” your argument.
  • For a creative work, you might include essential details you must include in that scene, such as an internal conflict in your main character.
  • Similar to subpoints, you may have more supporting details, depending on your purpose. A novel or study guide will likely have more supporting details.

Step 7 Include more layers of your outline, if necessary.

  • Roman Numeral
  • Capital Letter
  • Arabic Numeral
  • Lowercase Letter
  • Arabic Numeral in Parentheses

Step 8 Outline your conclusion, if you’re writing an essay or speech.

  • Restate your thesis.
  • 1-2 summarizing sentences.
  • Write a concluding statement.

Finalizing Your Outline

Step 1 Read over your outline to make sure you’ve achieved your purpose.

  • This also gives you a chance to look for missing parts or ideas that aren’t fully fleshed. If you see areas that leave questions unanswered, it’s best to fill in those gaps in information.

Step 2 Revise your outline if ideas are missing or not fleshed out.

  • If you are making an outline for yourself, you might not worry about this.

Step 3 Edit your outline if you’re turning it in for an assignment.

  • It’s a good idea to have someone else check it for errors, as it’s often hard to recognize errors in your own work.
  • While you edit your outline, refer back to your assignment sheet or rubric to make sure you've completely fulfilled the assignment. If not, go back and correct the areas that are lacking.

Step 4 Add layers if necessary.

  • You can use more layers if you want to include more information.
  • You might also include additional layers for a long creative work or a detailed study guide.

Expert Q&A

Emily Listmann, MA

  • Be concise and straightforward in your outline. This doesn't have to be perfectly polished writing; it just has to get your point across. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't be afraid to eliminate irrelevant information as you conduct more research about your topic and narrow your focus. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • You can use outlines as a memorization tool . Choose concise words to trigger a concept. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to write an outline for a college paper

  • Generally, you should avoid only having one point or sub-point on any outline level. If there is an A, either come up with a B or fold A's idea into the next level up. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 2
  • Your outline should not be your essay in a different form. Only write down the major assertions, not every single detail. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 1

You Might Also Like

Organize an Essay

  • ↑ https://www.iup.edu/writingcenter/writing-resources/organization-and-structure/creating-an-outline.html
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
  • ↑ https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/271/OutlinesHowTo.htm
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/02/
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-steps-to-creating-a-flexible-outline-for-any-story
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/03/
  • ↑ https://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/outline.html

About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

The easiest way to write an outline is to gather all of your supporting materials, like quotes, statistics, or ideas, before getting started. Next, go over your materials and take notes, grouping similar ideas together. Then, organize your ideas into subtopics and use your materials to provide at least two supporting points per subtopic. Be sure to keep your outline concise and clear, since you’ll have to refer to it later! For more help on how to plan and organize your outline, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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how to write an outline for a college paper

How to Write an Essay Outline: MLA and APA Styles

how to write an outline for a college paper

Outlining is a form of organization which is used among authors of all writing styles. The common organizational method allows writers to list all of their research and ideas in one place before the writing process starts. Understanding the general college essay outline can go a long way in getting your thoughts structured, as well as positive feedback from your professor. Take a look at this guide from our coursework writing services team to learn how to write an outline.

What Is an Outline?

An essay outline is one of the main planning methods when it comes to writing academic papers, scholarly articles, informative guides, novels, and encyclopedias. The everyday paper outline contains the headings: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Every source is organized by relevance to strengthen the writing process. There are various formats when it comes to outlining, but the main formats required for a college essay outline is MLA and APA.

Regardless of whether you’re writing an MLA or APA outline, the organizational process remains the same with some minor differences. The main difference being APA uses abstracts, as it requires one or two sentences per line. APA is used for humanities, as MLA is used more for social studies. Other than that, the simple outline remains the same for any kind of academic paper structure.

How to Write an Outline?

The most common college essay is 5 paragraphs. Thus, an easy way to remember the general format of a writing plan is to think of it as planning a 5 paragraph essay outline where students would write an Introduction, Thesis, Body, and Conclusion. Then, fit a total of 5 paragraphs within the basic structure. The same practice can be done with planning, except rather than paragraphs, it’s notes. The exact same method would apply to an argumentative essay outline and any other kind of paper structure throughout and beyond college.

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The Key-Elements to Outlining

  • Research & Notes: Before the writing process, it is essential to find credible sources and note them down. Search across credible websites, as well as academic search engines, Google Scholar or Oxford Academic, to find reliable references to include in an academic paper.
  • Prioritize Your Thesis: As the thesis statement is a summary of the entire paper, start prioritizing it before working on the other sections of the outline. The thesis can guide you along the planning and writing process.
  • Write Your Ideas: Assuming you have already written out the basic headings of an outline, write down all of the key points from your found sources in the Thesis and Body sections.
  • Where to Include References: For cause and effect, AP English examinations, SAT essays, admission essays, along with other formal writing styles, all of the references are included in the body section. Excluding reflection paper and analytical papers, where it’s acceptable to include a citation within the introductory paragraph.
  • Introduction: For most academic styles, the introduction is the opening line to the paper. Thus, it is essential to plan something catchy within the outline. As mentioned, writing styles, for example, reflection essay or analytical paper, allow for the use of citation as an opening.
  • The Conclusion: The entire paper should be summarized in the final paragraph, restating the thesis in the first sentence, adding suggestions, predictions, and/or opinions in the sentences that follow. As for the final sentence, it should summarize the goal of the paper.

General Outline Format

Here is an outline format from our business essay writing services professionals:

  • Essay Title:
  • Student Name:
  • Professor’s Name:
  • Class (Optional)

Introduction

  • Opening Paragraph.
  • Brief Description of the Entire Paper.
  • Link Sentence to the First Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Second Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Link Sentence to the Third Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion.
  • Summary of the Entire Paper.
  • A Conclusive Sentence.
  • Footnotes or Bibliography

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Outline Examples

We understand that it may be difficult to differentiate between an MLA & APA Outline. The methods both depend on the referencing styles. APA outlining makes the use of abstracts, as MLA uses sentence citations. In an MLA outline, a title page is not necessary. As the APA referencing style requires it, include it on the outline. Take a look at an outline example below to get a better idea.

MLA Outline Example

  • Introductory Sentence: Stonehenge is a vast hub for ancient history.
  • Link Sentence to the Thesis: Standing 13 feet high, it is one of the oldest structures in the UK.
  • Description of the Paper: The paper describes how Stonehenge was built and its purpose.
  • First Argument/Claim: Stonehenge was built in 3001BC.
  • Second Argument/Claim: Stonehenge is known to be a place for religious worship.
  • Third Argument/Claim: Other Stonehenge-like structures exist around Europe.
  • Reference: The circulation ditch around Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed around the year 3000BC, according to studies.
  • Explanation/Claim: Around the end of stone-age, pagans got together and built the first segment to what has become stone-henge.
  • Link Sentence: Which brings up the matter of belief.
  • Reference: During the late Tudor era, most people believed that ancient Britons placed the stones for the sole purpose of religious practice.
  • Explanation/Claim: From the late 2nd millennium AD to modern day, the practice of Paganism is the common explanation for the reason why stone-henge was built.
  • Link Sentence: More evidence emerges regarding the mysterious structure.
  • Reference: Around 1100 BC, Stonehenge-like stones emerged.
  • Explanation/Claim : The structure is believed to have been built by migrants.
  • Link Sentence:
  • Summary of the Paper: Overall, the ancient stones have caused great interest throughout human history with science and assumptions.
  • Conclusive Sentence: No one knows for sure how they were built.
  • “History of Stonehenge” https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/history-and-stories/history/
  • “Why Was Stonehenge Built?” https://www.history.com/news/why-was-stonehenge-built
  • “Stonehenge Is Not Alone: 7 Ancient Megaliths You've Never Seen.” https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/travel/stonehenge-not-alone-7-ancient-megaliths-youve-never-seen

APA Outline Example

  • Title: The Dangers of Using Cell-Phones
  • Student Name: Jake Smith
  • Professor’s Name: Dr. Stephen Miller
  • Class (Optional): Class of 2019
  • Introductory Sentence: Mobile phones have taken a drastic effect on our daily lives in the worst possible way.
  • Link Sentence to the Thesis: The everyday use of mobile technology has gone out of control.
  • Description: The paper describes the regular dangers and negative effects on humans regarding cell-phone usage. The ordeal can be life-threatening, or simply socially depriving.
  • First argument: High amounts of cell-phone usage results in negative health consequences.
  • Second Argument: Cell-phone usage has a negative effect on human interaction.
  • Third Argument: Texting while driving is worse than drinking and driving.
  • Evidence/Reference: “Mobile phones communicate with base stations using radiofrequency (RF) radiation. If RF radiation is high enough, it has a ‘thermal’ effect, which means it raises body temperature. There are concerns that the low levels of RF radiation emitted by mobile phones could cause health problems such as headaches or brain tumors.” (“Mobile phones and your health”)
  • Explanation/Claim: The radiation from phones possesses cancerous elements after long-term usage. In other words, one’s long-term cell-phone usage can put him or herself at risk of terminal illness, or worse. There is still a lack of evidence to this claim as cell-phones have not been around for very long.
  • Link Sentence: Which brings us to how cell-phones are destroying human interaction.
  • Evidence/Reference: “Sherry Turkle argues that the use of cell phones while in social situations affects the quality of human conversation. Turkle says that it makes people less open and honest in conversation. She also says it makes people less empathetic. She uses a school of children as an example, stating that the children do not seem to be able to understand each other or show empathy toward each other.” (“Cell-Phones and Human Interaction.”)
  • Explanation/Claim: Mobile phone usage has gotten to the extent that humans are no longer communicating. Families go out to restaurants, cafes, and parks without interacting with each other due to their addiction to cell-phones. Humans have also possessed far less empathy compared with 15 years ago due to the missing interaction that could have been obtained during this time period. This shows mostly in school children who have been born into this way of life.
  • Link Sentence: Apart from that, cell-phone usage while driving also comes with life-threatening risks.
  • Evidence/Reference: “The Transport Research Laboratory found that motorists who use their mobile phone to send text messages (...) the research found, with steering control by texters 91 percent poorer than that of drivers devoting their full concentration to the road.” (“Texting while driving is more dangerous than drink-driving.” )
  • Explanation/Claim: Using a mobile device while driving a motor vehicle has more of a drastic effect than drink-driving. On record, there have been more deaths around the world from text-driving and drink-driving.
  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion: Humans are completely addicted to mobile phones, to the extent of dangerous driving, health-risks, and a lack of interaction.
  • Summary of the Entire Paper: Restate the Thesis.
  • Conclusive Sentence: The continuation of excessive usage of mobile phones is becoming a major threat to mankind in every aspect possible.
  • “Mobile Phones and Your Health” https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/mobile-phones-and-your-health
  • “Cell Phones and Human Interaction.” https://www.theodysseyonline.com/cell-phones-and-human-interaction
  • “Texting While Driving Is More Dangerous Than Drink-Driving,” http://www.amta.org.au/articles/amta/Texting.while.driving.is.more.dangerous.than.drinkdriving

We also recommend reading The Divine Comedy Summary , our readers like it a lot, and it may also be helpful in writing essays.

Regardless of the writing style, the main essay format acts as a helping hand in multiple ways to any kind of author. Knowing the general plan of an essay can highly benefit those writing their everyday college paper or dissertation by having all of the ideas and references on a writing plan. For example, a persuasive essay outline does not differentiate from a research paper plan. Thus, knowing the general outline format can make producing academic papers far easier by simplifying the entire writing process. Sometimes when you start writing an essay, you may encounter various difficulties like not understanding the topic, lack of time, too tired. You may ask yourself "I want to pay someone to write my paper . Can anyone help me?" Sure! On EssayPro we can give you a hand! Just leave us a request and we'll help asap.

How to Get Qualified Essay Help

Are you still having difficulty outlining? Our writers are here to give you a hand to create a well-structured essay outline with references and unique ideas included. Regardless of the subject, academic level, or outline format required, we have got you covered. Click on the button below if you have the " write research paper for me " request or need any other help.

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Types of Outlines and Samples

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Alphanumeric Outlines

This is the most common type of outline and usually instantly recognizable to most people. The formatting follows these characters, in this order:

  • Roman Numerals
  • Capitalized Letters
  • Arabic Numerals
  • Lowercase Letters

If the outline needs to subdivide beyond these divisions, use Arabic numerals inside parentheses and then lowercase letters inside parentheses. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.

The sample PDF in the Media Box above is an example of an outline that a student might create before writing an essay. In order to organize her thoughts and make sure that she has not forgotten any key points that she wants to address, she creates the outline as a framework for her essay.

What is the assignment?

Your instructor asks the class to write an expository (explanatory) essay on the typical steps a high school student would follow in order to apply to college.

What is the purpose of this essay?

To explain the process for applying to college

Who is the intended audience for this essay?

High school students intending to apply to college and their parents

What is the essay's thesis statement?

When applying to college, a student follows a certain process which includes choosing the right schools and preparing the application materials.

Full Sentence Outlines

The full sentence outline format is essentially the same as the Alphanumeric outline. The main difference (as the title suggests) is that full sentences are required at each level of the outline. This outline is most often used when preparing a traditional essay. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.

Decimal Outlines

The decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline. The added benefit is a system of decimal notation that clearly shows how every level of the outline relates to the larger whole. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.

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How Can You Create a Well Planned Research Paper Outline

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You are staring at the blank document, meaning to start writing your research paper . After months of experiments and procuring results, your PI asked you to write the paper to publish it in a reputed journal. You spoke to your peers and a few seniors and received a few tips on writing a research paper, but you still can’t plan on how to begin!

Writing a research paper is a very common issue among researchers and is often looked upon as a time consuming hurdle. Researchers usually look up to this task as an impending threat, avoiding and procrastinating until they cannot delay it anymore. Seeking advice from internet and seniors they manage to write a paper which goes in for quite a few revisions. Making researchers lose their sense of understanding with respect to their research work and findings. In this article, we would like to discuss how to create a structured research paper outline which will assist a researcher in writing their research paper effectively!

Publication is an important component of research studies in a university for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. However, the primary reason is to provide the data and hypotheses to scientific community to advance the understanding in a specific domain. A scientific paper is a formal record of a research process. It documents research protocols, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion from a research hypothesis .

Table of Contents

What Is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is a basic format for writing an academic research paper. It follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). However, this format varies depending on the type of research manuscript. A research paper outline consists of following sections to simplify the paper for readers. These sections help researchers build an effective paper outline.

1. Title Page

The title page provides important information which helps the editors, reviewers, and readers identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance. It also provides an overview of the field of research the research paper belongs to. The title should strike a balance between precise and detailed. Other generic details include author’s given name, affiliation, keywords that will provide indexing, details of the corresponding author etc. are added to the title page.

2. Abstract

Abstract is the most important section of the manuscript and will help the researcher create a detailed research paper outline . To be more precise, an abstract is like an advertisement to the researcher’s work and it influences the editor in deciding whether to submit the manuscript to reviewers or not. Writing an abstract is a challenging task. Researchers can write an exemplary abstract by selecting the content carefully and being concise.

3. Introduction

An introduction is a background statement that provides the context and approach of the research. It describes the problem statement with the assistance of the literature study and elaborates the requirement to update the knowledge gap. It sets the research hypothesis and informs the readers about the big research question.

This section is usually named as “Materials and Methods”, “Experiments” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. This purpose provides complete information on methods used for the research. Researchers should mention clear description of materials and their use in the research work. If the methods used in research are already published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication. However, if the method used is modified from the original method, then researcher should mention the modifications done to the original protocol and validate its accuracy, precision, and repeatability.

It is best to report results as tables and figures wherever possible. Also, avoid duplication of text and ensure that the text summarizes the findings. Report the results with appropriate descriptive statistics. Furthermore, report any unexpected events that could affect the research results, and mention complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (if any).

6. Discussion

The discussion should set the research in context, strengthen its importance and support the research hypothesis. Summarize the main results of the study in one or two paragraphs and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme of studies. Compare the results with other investigations in the field of research and explain the differences.

7. Acknowledgments

Acknowledgements identify and thank the contributors to the study, who are not under the criteria of co-authors. It also includes the recognition of funding agency and universities that award scholarships or fellowships to researchers.

8. Declaration of Competing Interests

Finally, declaring the competing interests is essential to abide by ethical norms of unique research publishing. Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest.

Steps to Write a Research Paper Outline

  • Write down all important ideas that occur to you concerning the research paper .
  • Answer questions such as – what is the topic of my paper? Why is the topic important? How to formulate the hypothesis? What are the major findings?
  • Add context and structure. Group all your ideas into sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.
  • Add relevant questions to each section. It is important to note down the questions. This will help you align your thoughts.
  • Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline.
  • After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers.
  • Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to.
  • The process of real writing begins.

Benefits of Creating a Research Paper Outline

As discussed, the research paper subheadings create an outline of what different aspects of research needs elaboration. This provides subtopics on which the researchers brainstorm and reach a conclusion to write. A research paper outline organizes the researcher’s thoughts and gives a clear picture of how to formulate the research protocols and results. It not only helps the researcher to understand the flow of information but also provides relation between the ideas.

A research paper outline helps researcher achieve a smooth transition between topics and ensures that no research point is forgotten. Furthermore, it allows the reader to easily navigate through the research paper and provides a better understanding of the research. The paper outline allows the readers to find relevant information and quotes from different part of the paper.

Research Paper Outline Template

A research paper outline template can help you understand the concept of creating a well planned research paper before beginning to write and walk through your journey of research publishing.

1. Research Title

A. Background i. Support with evidence ii. Support with existing literature studies

B. Thesis Statement i. Link literature with hypothesis ii. Support with evidence iii. Explain the knowledge gap and how this research will help build the gap 4. Body

A. Methods i. Mention materials and protocols used in research ii. Support with evidence

B. Results i. Support with tables and figures ii. Mention appropriate descriptive statistics

C. Discussion i. Support the research with context ii. Support the research hypothesis iii. Compare the results with other investigations in field of research

D. Conclusion i. Support the discussion and research investigation ii. Support with literature studies

E. Acknowledgements i. Identify and thank the contributors ii. Include the funding agency, if any

F. Declaration of Competing Interests

5. References

Download the Research Paper Outline Template!

Have you tried writing a research paper outline ? How did it work for you? Did it help you achieve your research paper writing goal? Do let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write an Essay Outline

    An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold. You'll sometimes be asked to submit an essay outline as a separate assignment before you ...

  2. How to Write an Outline in 5 Steps, with Examples

    1. explain basic structure of outline. 2. reiterate how outlines help with paragraph order. B. Alphanumeric system. 1. introduce the alphanumeric system. a. bullet list of each line in alphanumeric system. C. Content written in blurbs. 1. exceptions for sharing with teams. D. Outline indentation.

  3. PDF Essay Outline Template

    Offer some more specific background information (as needed). 3. Provide the title of the piece and the author's name if the essay is about a specific book/poem/article/passage. C. Thesis Statement 1. State your topic and position. Remember that a thesis = claim + reasons. 2. Outline your main points and ideas.

  4. How to Outline

    For research papers, an outline may help you keep track of large amounts of information. For creative writing, an outline may help organize the various plot threads and help keep track of character traits. Many people find that organizing an oral report or presentation in outline form helps them speak more effectively in front of a crowd.

  5. How to Create a Clearly Structured Essay Outline

    An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. In just 3 minutes, this video will show you how to organize your ...

  6. How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline

    A research paper outline is a useful tool to aid in the writing process, providing a structure to follow with all information to be included in the paper clearly organized. A quality outline can make writing your research paper more efficient by helping to: Organize your thoughts; Understand the flow of information and how ideas are related ...

  7. How to Write an Essay Outline in 4 Steps

    3 Identify the points you'll make in each paragraph. Using the list of points you wrote down, identify the key arguments you'll make in your essay. These will be your body sections. For example, in an argumentative essay about why your campus needs to install more water fountains, you might make points like:

  8. College Essay Format & Structure

    For example, a student might discuss trying out for a sports team as a middle schooler, high school freshman, and high school senior, using each of those instances to describe an aspect of their personality. A rough outline for that essay might look like this: Narrative structure. Intro/hook: Vivid description of me at age 7, trying out for my ...

  9. How to Write an Essay Outline

    Why it's worth writing an outline. How to outline a paper. Step 1: gather your relevant materials. Step 2: create your thesis. Step 3: find examples. Step 4: analyze your examples. Step 5: arrange your examples. An example.

  10. Outlining

    Outlining your first draft by listing each paragraph's topic sentence can be an easy way to ensure that each of your paragraphs is serving a specific purpose in your paper. You may find opportunities to combine or eliminate potential paragraphs when outlining—first drafts often contain repetitive ideas or sections that stall, rather than ...

  11. How to Outline a College Essay

    The art of writing a college essay can be overwhelming at first. However, using an outline can help organize your essay in a way that makes it much easier to write and much nicer to read. Taking the time to brainstorm, plot out your thoughts, and place them logically into an outline will pay off in the future as it will save you time and help ...

  12. How to Write a Research Paper Outline In 7 Steps

    2 Make a list of all the topics, subtopics, and points you want to cover. Go through your research and note each topic, subtopic, and supporting point. Be sure to keep related information together. Remember that everything you discuss in your paper should relate to your thesis, so omit anything that seems tangential.

  13. Outlining

    An outline is a tool used to organize your written ideas about a topic into a logical order. It is meant to help you establish a structure for a paper you are going to write. It is a way for you to demonstrate the main argument (thesis), main points (topic sentences), and main pieces of evidence you are going to present in a paper before ...

  14. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    Again, we'd recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins. Basically, show them you're ready to write in college by using the formatting you'll normally use in college.

  15. How to Write an Outline in APA Format

    Both your psychology research paper and outline should include three key sections: Introduction: Highlights the main points and presents your hypothesis. Body: Details the ideas and research that support your hypothesis. Conclusion: Briefly reiterates your main points and clarifies support for your position.

  16. How to write an outline

    An outline presents a picture of the main ideas and the subsidiary ideas of a subject. Some typical uses of outlining might be an essay, a term paper, a book review, or a speech. For any of these, an outline will show a basic overview and important details.

  17. How to Write an Outline (with Pictures)

    Write at least 2 subpoints for each main idea. Your subpoints are the second level of your outline, so you'll label them as A, B, or C for an alphanumeric outline or to 1 decimal place for a decimal outline (1.1, 1.2). These are the ideas that further explain your main point.

  18. How to Write an Essay Outline: MLA and APA Styles

    The methods both depend on the referencing styles. APA outlining makes the use of abstracts, as MLA uses sentence citations. In an MLA outline, a title page is not necessary. As the APA referencing style requires it, include it on the outline. Take a look at an outline example below to get a better idea.

  19. Types of Outlines

    This outline is most often used when preparing a traditional essay. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline. Decimal Outlines. The decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline. The added benefit is a system of decimal notation that clearly shows how every level of the ...

  20. How To Write a Research Paper Outline (With Examples and Tips)

    While many high school and college research papers are typically five paragraphs in length, longer papers are often variations on this format. Familiarity with the five-paragraph essay should ease the transition to longer papers. How to write a research paper outline After identifying a topic, determine the type of research paper you'll be writing.

  21. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    Harvard College Writing Center 2 Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt When you receive a paper assignment, your first step should be to read the assignment prompt carefully to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. Sometimes your assignment will be open-ended ("write a paper about anything in the course that interests you").

  22. How to Create a Research Paper Outline (With Template & Examples)

    This will help you align your thoughts. Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline. After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers. Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to. The process of real writing begins.

  23. PDF The Basic Outline of a Paper

    The Basic Outline of a Paper. The following outline shows a basic format for most academic papers. No matter what length the paper needs to be, it should still follow the format of having an introduction, body, and conclusion. Read over what typically goes in each section of the paper. Use the back of this handout to outline information for ...

  24. How to Form an Argumentative Essay Outline

    The most straightforward approach to an argumentative essay outline is to first present your position, including the evidence and reasoning to back it up, and then address the opposing points of view. However, the more complex the topic, the more layers must be added to the outline.

  25. The Ultimate Guide To Write College Papers Of High Quality

    What is an outline? A college paper outline is a step-by-step plan of your manuscript. It's like a map for your paper, where you organize all the sections (paragraphs) and specify what you'll write in each. Your outline needs the following sections: Introduction. Decide what you'll use as a hook in your paper to grab readers' attention ...