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How to Write an Outline

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❶If necessary, create an introduction page and a works cited or references page to bookend your paper. Avoid subjects that are too technical, learned, or specialized.

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MLA Recommendations On How to Write an Outline
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Read More also available as ebook. Save this course for later Don't have time for it all now? Add to my courses. Take it with you wherever you go. With a sentence outline, all of the headings and subpoints are provided in complete sentences. Topic outlines are usually used when your research deals with many different issues that can be arranged in different ways.

Sentence outlines are usually used if your research focuses on complex issues. Some instructors will insist that you must not combine these two forms. Many others, however, offer one exception to this guideline by allowing the main section headings to be short phrases while the remaining subpoints are written as full sentences. Most outlines use an alpha-numerical structure.

This structure uses a series of letters and numbers to identify and arrange section levels. In sentence outlines, headings and subpoints are almost always written with correct sentence capitalization rules. This is not always the case with topic outlines, though. One school of thought indicates that first level headings should be written in all capital letters while all remaining headings use standard sentence capitalization rules.

Another school of thought suggests that the first level headings should only have the first letter of each word capitalized, rather than the entire word. The remaining headings, again, use standard sentence capitalization rules. Keep matters of length in mind. Your outline should run no longer than one-quarter to one-fifth the total estimated size of your final research paper. For a four to five page paper, you only need a single page outline.

For a 15 to 20 page paper, your outline will usually run no longer than four pages. Familiarize yourself with a one-level outline. A one-level outline only uses major headings and no subheadings. Note that you would not usually use this outline for a research paper, as it is not very specific or detailed.

It can still be a good idea to start with this outline level, however, since you can use it to provide yourself with a general direction for your paper and expand upon it as the information flows in. Move onto a two-level outline. Two-level outlines are a little more common for research papers. You utilize major headings and one level of subheadings.

In other words, your Roman numeral and capital letter sections are both present. Each second-level subheading should discuss a primary supporting argument for the main idea it falls under. Progress to a three-level outline. A three-level outline is even more complex, but if done right, it can help you to structure your research paper even more thoroughly.

You use Roman numerals, capital letters, and standard numbers for this version. Next to each third-level subsection, you should address the topic of a paragraph that falls under the corresponding second-level section or main idea above it. Use a four-level outline, when necessary. These outlines are about the most complex you would expect to need for a research paper, and if you choose this structure, you will use Roman numerals, capital letters, standard numbers, and lowercase letters for your levels.

The fourth-level subheadings should address supporting statements, citations, or ideas within each paragraph listed in the third-level sections. Every heading and subheading should maintain a structure that is parallel to the other headings within its level. Parallelism also refers to parts of speech and tense. If a heading starts with a verb, then the other headings must also start with a verb.

Moreover, that verb must also be in the same tense usually present tense. The information provided by your first major heading should be equal in importance to the information offered in your second major heading. The same can be said of sentences in subheadings, as well. Your major headings should identify major tasks or ideas. Your subheadings should elaborate on the points addressed in your major headings.

The information in your headings should be general and the subheadings should be more specific. For instance, if you were writing about memorable experiences from your childhood, "Memorable Childhood Experiences" would be the heading and the subheadings might look something like, "Vacation at 8 years old," "Favorite birthday party," and "Family trips to the park.

Each major heading should be divided into two or more parts. In other words, you should have at least two subheadings for every major heading. There is no limit on subheadings, but once you start forming a dozen or so subheadings under a single heading, you might find your outline looking cluttered and messy.

Identify the research problem. As you prepare to write your outline, you need to specifically identify the research problem you are trying to address. This will guide the entire formation of your outline and your paper.

From this research problem, you will derive your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that sums up the entire purpose or argument of your research paper. This thesis statement will usually be written above the outline itself or within the first "Introduction" heading of the outline.

Your research problem can also help you figure out a title.


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Below are examples of research paper outlines. Creating an outline is the first thing you should do before starting on your research paper.

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How to Write a Research Paper. What is a research paper? A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on its author’s original research on a particular topic, and the analysis and interpretation of the research findings. It can be either a term paper, a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation.

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For any research paper, it is essential to understand how to write an outline. In many fields, research papers require an outline, as an integral part of the paper. In many fields, research papers require an outline, as an integral part of the paper. Learn about the writing process, goal setting, and how to write papers successfully for course assignments. Skip to main content. Writing Center. D. Gaps in the Research: Outlining Your Outline as a Way to Write Every Day (blog post) Writing Center blog post.

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The outline structure is approximately the same whether you write a research outline on dreams or some topic distant from this one, like a research outline for PhD application. The structure is identical to the structure of the research paper itself. If you get a surge of inspiration part way through writing your paper and decide to take your paper in a new direction, go ahead and change your outline. There are several different ways to format an outline, but the MLA method (below) is a solid way to do it.