Writing an Outline: Rules, Format & Example
The information and examples for this section are taken from Write Source 2000 and Research Paper Handbook.
An outline is an organized list of the information you will use for the main part of your research
paper or essay. In an outline you list details from general to specific. There are two types of
outline styles and each is used for a specific type of writing assignment; for a short essay you
would write a Topic Outline and for a research paper you would write a Sentence Outline.
With both types, once you have finished gathering research, it is time to turn all your notes into a
well-organized essay or research paper. You will present your own ideas, thoughts and analysis
of the topic and blend it in with the facts and data that you have researched. By writing an outline
you may also discover weakness in your research and areas that need more exploration.
o Format of Your Outline – the traditional outline numbering follows a specific format of
letters and numbers. First, number the main sections or topics with Roman numerals (I, II,
III, and so on) Use capital Letters (A, B, C and so on) for the first level of subsection under
the Roman numerals. If there is a further level of subsections after that, use Arabic numerals
(1, 2, 3 and so on). If there is still another level after that, use lowercase letters (a, b, c and so
o Indenting Your Outline – to make the outline more clear and easy to follow, align each
section to the left of the paper. Indent each subsection; with every subsequent subsection
I. First major heading
A. Subheading of first degree
1. Subheading of second degree
a. Subheading of third degree
(1) Subheading of fourth degree
(a) Subheading of fifth degree
B. Subheading of first degree
II. Second major heading
1. Each division must be in two parts. If you have a I, you must have a II. If have a A, you
must have a B. If you have a 1, you must have a 2, and so on.
2. The lettering and numbering rules above apply to both types of outlines.