How to Write a Term Paper Outline

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A research or term paper outline not only helps you structure your ideas, but some teachers actually require this to be turned in along with the paper itself. Although it may seem like a chore, a paper outline truly will serve as the skeleton for your work, allowing you to build a more organized paper.

  • Identify your main idea. This is all you need for the introduction portion of your paper outline. Label your introduction, body and conclusion with Roman numerals. Suppose your thesis statement is "Citrus fruits each have different health benefits." Example, you might write below the paper's title:

    Thesis Statement: Citrus fruits each have different health benefits.

    I. Introduction

  • Think of the major points that you want to make in your paper. If possible, you want to build a paragraph around each major point. Label each sub-point with capital letters. If your paper will compare the health benefits of different kinds of citrus fruits, the body of your outline might look like this:

    II. Body

               A. lemon
    B. orange
    C. lime
    D. grapefruit
  • Add in your minor points. This will help you remember exactly which direction you want to go in while you are writing, thus preventing you from starting your paragraph talking about oranges and ending your paragraph talking about the rainforest. Always stick to your topic.

    II. Body

    A. lemon

    1. more vitamins
    2. bleaching effects

    These are just examples. You can add as many minor points as you like to your outline.

  • Indent your margins as you move from the major sections to main points to minor points of the outline. Make sure everything lines up in a parallel structure for optimal presentation.

  • Add your conclusion as your last Roman numeral:

    III. Conclusion

    A. Quote Dr. John Doe

    You could list any extra points you feel are necessary, although that isn't needed. Remember that the outline exists to help you structure your paper. If someone else needs an outline to understand your paper, it's time for a rewrite.

  • Follow the guidelines set by your teacher or professor. Different instructors have different preferences when it comes to outlines. Some would prefer that you invert the Roman numerals and letters, while some want your main idea listed as a part of the introduction and not separately. Be sure to double-check with your instructor if you are unsure of what style of paper outline she would prefer you to do.

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