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Creating Outlines

This guide walks users through the creation of different types of outlines in order to better organize their research materials.

What Is a Formal Outline?

A formal outline...

  • is a visual listing of your paper's main concepts, broken down into main topics and supporting topics
  • uses Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.), capital letters (A, B, C, etc.), Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.), lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc.), and indentation to organize these topics and subtopics in list format
  • can be written in fragments or complete sentences (An outline in complete sentences is called a sentence outline.)


When constructing a formal outline, you may want to consider these factors...

  • the main topic typically represents the overall topic of a single paragraph
  • main topics traditionally have no fewer than two sub-topics for supporting details
  • there is no standard of length for a good outline- longer papers typically have longer outlines


When in doubt about the structure of the outline required for your assignment, please consult with your instructor and use the materials or instructions distributed in class.

Formal Outline Examples

Helpful Software

Need help creating an outline from scratch? Check out the following information:

You can also create an outline in a Google Doc. The menus for this feature are shown in the following image.

Image shows the outline feature opened within the format menu. The steps are format- bullets & numbering- numbered (or bulleted) list- select style

Formal outlines:

Format --> Bullets & numbering --> Numbered list --> select your style

Informal outlines:

Format --> Bullets & numbering --> Bulleted list --> select your style