How to Outline a Paper

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An outline helps you organize a paper's content in a logical and
sequential way. Here is a basic guide.

Things You'll Need

  • Report Covers
  • Printers
  • Bonded Paper
  • Computers
  • Word-processing Software
  • Write the working title of your paper at the top of a blank sheet of paper. The working title does not need to be the one you use for your final paper; "Midterm Paper" or "History Paper" will suffice.

  • Beneath the working title, write a few lines about the goal of the paper and the steps you will take to achieve that goal. For example: 'In this paper, I will show the secrets of a successful and happy life, using scholarly journals from psychologists and veterinarians.'

  • Follow the summary with a statement of your paper's thesis ' for example, 'Owning a dog can make one's life healthier and happier.'

  • Begin to lay down the basic framework for your paper by dividing its content into sections.

  • Start by writing either an Arabic or Roman numeral 1 - depending on your style of outline - followed by a period, then the title of the section (a "section heading"). In an informal outline use Arabic numerals; in a formal outline use Roman numerals.

  • Write a few lines describing what you wish to accomplish in the section.

  • Use subsections to list specific examples or topics that you wish to discuss under each heading. Mark them with a lowercase letter (a, b, c and so on).

  • Follow this format for each section heading, then put the sections in the following general order: introduction, body, conclusion.

Tips & Warnings

  • You may want to write each section heading on a separate sheet of paper to allow yourself room to take notes and brainstorm.
  • Remember that a paper outline is merely a tool in the paper-writing process and does not bind you to anything. Feel free to change its format to suit your needs.
  • As you write your paper, refer back to your outline to make sure you're on track.

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