An outline is a tool used to organize written ideas about a topic or thesis into a logical order. Outlines arrange major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Writers use outlines when writing their papers in order to know which topic to cover in what order. Outlines for papers can be very general or very detailed. Check with your instructor to know which is expected of you. Here are some examples of different outlines. You can also learn more by watching the short video below.
The most common type of outline is an alphanumeric outline, or an outline that uses letters and numbers in the following order:
I. Roman Numerals
A. I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, etc.
B. Represent main ideas to be covered in the paper in the order they will be presented
II. Uppercase Letters
A. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, etc.
B. Represent subtopics within each main idea
III. Arabic Numbers
A. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc.
B. Represent details or subdivisions within subtopics
IV. Lowercase Letters
A. a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, l, m, etc.
B. Represent details within subdivisions
Outline with main ideas, subtopics, subdivisions and details:
Thesis: Drugs should be legalized.
I. Legalization of drugs would reduce crime rates
1. Before Prohibition, crime rate related to alcohol were low-to-medium
2. During Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were high
a. Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increase 41%
b. Federal prison population increased 366%
3. After Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were very low
1. Before Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates were high
2. After Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates dropped
II. Legalization of drugs would benefit the economy
1. Local taxes
2. State taxes
3. Federal taxes
B. Business Owners
1. Drug production
2. Drug quality testing
3. Drug sales
III. Legalization of drugs would benefit public health
A. Quality of drugs would increase
1. Fake/dangerous drugs eliminated
2. Fake/placebo drugs eliminated
3. Amount of active ingredient standardized and stabilized
B. Drug users with addiction issues would get more help
3. Public health clinics
C. Your people would be less likely to start drugs
- Each roman numeral (I, II, III, IV…) indicates the start of a new paragraph. So I. is the first sentence of the introduction, II. is the first sentence of the first paragraph of the body, III. is the first sentence of the second paragraph of the body, and so on.
- Each capital letter (A, B, C, D…) indicates a main point within the structure of the paragraph. So in our introduction, A. is the attention getter, B. is another attention getter, C. describes a point that makes the topic personal, and D. is the thesis statement.
- Each Arabic numeral (1, 2, 3, 4…) indicates a sentence or piece of supporting evidence for each main point. So in the first body paragraph (II.), point A. is a general statement that needs some additional support, so 1. provides a supporting statement of fact and the citation of where that information came from. 2. provides another sentence with supporting evidence, as does 3.
Example of a full-sentence outline:
Warming Our World and Chilling Our Future
Thesis Statement: Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.
I. Global warming is alive and well and thriving in Antarctica.
A. In winter 1995, an iceberg the size of Rhode Island broke off.
B. In October 1998, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off.
C. All of us have a lot at stake.
1. Now, I am what you call a “country mouse.”
2. I love the outdoors.
3. You can be a “city mouse,” and like clean air, good water, and not having to worry about sun.
D. Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.
II. Global warming is a gradual warming of the Earth from human activities (citation).
A. It is characterized by a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
1. Each year five tons of CO2 are pumped into the atmosphere (citation).
2. The carbon dioxide traps heat.
3. 1998 set temperature records (citation).
B. Carbon pollutants also eat a hole in the ozone layer (citation).
1. In 1998 this hole set a size record.
2. This allows more ultraviolet radiation to reach Earth.
C. If this problem is not corrected; we may see disastrous results (citation).
1. There could be dramatic climate changes.
a. There could be drought in the middle of continents.
b. There could be many severe storms.
c. There could be rising sea levels that would destroy coastal areas.
2. There could be serious health problems.
a. There could be an increase in skin cancer.
b. There could be an increase in cataracts.
c. There could be damaged immune systems.
D. Now that you understand what global warming is and why it is important, let’s examine its major causes.
III. The loss of woodlands adds to global warming (citation).
IV. Industrial emissions accelerate global warming (citation).
V. Personal energy consumption magnifies global warming (citation).
VI. In conclusion, if you want to know why we have global warming, listen for the falling trees, watch the industrial smokestacks darkening the sky, and smell the exhaust fumes we are pumping into the air.
A. Gore told a story on how global warming can sneak up on us.
B. Addressing the National Academy of Sciences, the vice president said, “If dropped into a pot of boiling water….”
C. The more we know about global warming, the more likely we are to jump and the less likely we are to be cooked.
Sample Outline #2
Title: The FederalistPapers’ Influence on the Ratification of the Constitution
Thesis: The Federalist Papers influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.
a. Describe The Federalist Papers are and when they started
b. Thesis:The Federalist influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.
a. State when The Federalist was printed and published.
b. Discuss the intentions and purposes of The Federalist.
III. Argument for the benefit of a
a. A would guard against external dangers
b. A would guard against internal dangers
A. The “extended sphere” argument about how it will control factions. (Federalist 10)
IV. Argument of the problem with complete separation of powers
a. Anti-federalists wanted a complete separation of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches
b. The Federalist said the maxim of complete separation of powers is misunderstood. (Montesquieu)
c. The branches need some limited power of the other branches to protect themselves from encroachment of the other branches (Federalist 51)
A. The branches need to have the interests of maintaining their powers, and not letting the other branches take that away.
V. Argument for a single executive, and against a plural executive
a. Anti-federalists didn’t want a single executive, too much like a monarch
b. The Federalist need the executive to be “energetic” and a plural executive would make this impossible (Federalist 70)
A. It would take too long for the people in the executive position to make decision in an emergency, because they might disagree.
B. In a plural executive, it is hard to tell who is responsible for a wrongdoing because they can all blame each other, so a single executive would lead to more responsible behavior
VI. Argument in favor of judicial review and terms of good behavior for judges
a. Anti-federalists didn’t like judicial review and the term of good behavior
b. The Federalist argued that judicial review was necessary to protect the judicial branch from the Legislature.
c. A term of good behavior was necessary to get qualified people for the positions; it would also give them time to develop knowledge.
b. The dates of the ratification of the Constitution by the States
c. The Federalist’s influence beyond the ratification