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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper: Outlining

Outlining

An outline maps out the thesis and the major and minor ideas in your paper. Outlining a paper before you begin writing helps you organize your subject matter and its development toward your conclusion. Following an outline can help you avoid pitfalls like rambling, getting off-topic, weak arguments, etc.

Outlines can be structured in a multitude of ways, including chronologically, alpha-numerically, or in full sentences. Below is a basic overview.

BASIC OUTLINE  FORM  

   Intro with Thesis

           I.  MAIN IDEA
                  A. Sub-point to I
                  B. Sub-point to I
                      1. Sub-point to B
                      2. Sub-point to B
                          a) Sub-point to 2
                          b) Sub-point to 2

           II.  MAIN IDEA
                  A. Sub-point to II
                  B. Sub-point to II
                  C. Sub-point to II

           III.  MAIN IDEA

   Conclusion

Here, the thesis may take the form of a sentence, a paragraph, or a fragment. Roman numerals identify main ideas. Indented capital letters identify sub-points under each main idea. Further indented italic numbers identify sub-points under the capital letters. If necessary, indented lowercase letters identify sub-points under the numbers. It is up to the writer to decide on how many main ideas and sub-points support the subject and move the argument forward.