Types of Outlines and Samples
This is the most common type of outline and usually instantly recognizable to most people. The formatting follows these characters, in this order:
- Roman Numerals
- Capitalized Letters
- Arabic Numerals
- Lowercase Letters
If the outline needs to subdivide beyond these divisions, use Arabic numerals inside parentheses and then lowercase letters inside parentheses. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.
The sample PDF in the Media Box above is an example of an outline that a student might create before writing an essay. In order to organize her thoughts and make sure that she has not forgotten any key points that she wants to address, she creates the outline as a framework for her essay.
What is the assignment?
Your instructor asks the class to write an expository (explanatory) essay on the typical steps a high school student would follow in order to apply to college.
What is the purpose of this essay?
To explain the process for applying to college
Who is the intended audience for this essay?
High school students intending to apply to college and their parents
What is the essay's thesis statement?
When applying to college, a student follows a certain process which includes choosing the right schools and preparing the application materials.
Full Sentence Outlines
The full sentence outline format is essentially the same as the Alphanumeric outline. The main difference (as the title suggests) is that full sentences are required at each level of the outline. This outline is most often used when preparing a traditional essay. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.
The decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline. The added benefit is a system of decimal notation that clearly shows how every level of the outline relates to the larger whole. Select the "Sample Outlines" PDF in the Media Box above to download the sample of this outline.
- Definition, Description, and History (as appropriate)
- Statement of Purpose
- Information Sources (including research methods and materials)
- Working Definitions (if appropriate)
- Limitations of the Report (if appropriate)
- Scope of Coverage (sequence of major topics in the body)
- First Major Topic
- First subtopic of A
- Second subtopic of A
- First subtopic of 2
- Second subtopic of 2
(And so on - subdivision carried as far as necessary)
- Second Major Topic
(and so on)
- First Major Topic
- Conclusion (where everything is tied together)
A good outline also conforms to the following guidelines:
- It obeys the "rule of two": each main topic should contain at least two subtopics; subtopics, if followed by sub-subtopics, should again contain at least two.
- It avoids overlap: each topic addresses a distinct idea.
- It maintains coherence: subtopics and sub-subtopics relate directly to their major topics, rather than leading reader and writer off on tempting tangents.
- It maintains internal parallelism: all items at any given level are grammatically-similar
- It provides clear and informative headings
By the time you have created an effective formal outline, you will be ready to write a first draft of your paper. Indeed, many writers work from rough, skeletal outlines to create first, exploratory drafts, and only then, after revising those drafts, do they commit themselves to a formal outline.
Note, too, that some writers do not find the need to use a formal outline; by the time they have created a first draft from their initial, organizational skeleton, they are ready to stick with that draft, revising and fine-tuning it, until they feel they have accomplished their purpose.
Examples of completed effective formal outlines: