A Sample Guide for Writing An Outline in MLA Format

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Writing a high-quality academic paper requires you to get your thoughts well organized and structured. A simple way to make the process easier is to use an outline. This is a planning method that helps you bring together all your ideas and research information while giving you the direction of your paper.

In this article, we show you the simplest way to write an outline in MLA format. But that’s not all; we’ll share a sample outline so be sure to stick around to the end!

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What is MLA outline format?

An outline can loosely be defined as a skeletal version of your paper. You can also think of it as the roadmap that helps you organize your ideas and thoughts before the real writing begins. A common mistake we see a lot of students make is constantly having to backtrack in the middle of writing to see if their paper makes sense. This not only delays their writing but also makes the entire process quite frustrating!

You can streamline your thought process, write a more flowing paper and write faster by writing an outline. Doing this prep work enables you to visualize how the final document will look like, the examples and arguments to include and more.

How to write an outline MLA format

Here’s a breakdown of every key element and step you should include in your MLA format outline:

- Gather relevant materials i.e. research and notes

- Develop your thesis

- Formulate your ideas and think about examples

- Analyze the gathered information, ideas and examples

- Plan your introduction

- Summarize the paper

Gather relevant materials

Before any writing starts, it’s important that you first find and note down relevant informational materials. If the task at hand involves use of external resources, you might start your search on credible academic search engines. A good place to start is Google Scholar and Oxford Academic.

If your paper is based on a book you are reading in a class, consider noting down relevant chapters or page numbers from where you will get your information.

Develop your thesis

Having compiled your reading materials, it’s time to think about creating your thesis statement. This is a sentence that summarizes what you will write in the paper to help guide your writing process. At this point, you might want to revisit what the assignment is about and check through your gathered materials. The idea is to come up with an accurate viewpoint of the paper you’re about to start writing.

Formulate your ideas and think about examples

The purpose of this step is to come up with ways to reinforce your thesis. Write down various key points from your gathered materials and identify arguments and quotes that can help to reinforce your thesis.

Analyze the gathered information, ideas and examples

Identifying and gathering information to use in your paper is one thing. Analyzing it to ensure that it is relevant in supporting your thesis is a different thing. For this step, write several bullet points and try to connect your ideas and examples to your thesis. You could also organize your notes and have them arranged in a logical manner akin to a normal paper.

This step might be time-consuming but the hassle is all worth it if you’re to simplify your writing process.

Plan your introduction

When creating an outline in MLA format, the opening line to the paper serves as its introduction. Ideally, you want to come up with a catchy line that captures the attention of your professor.

Summarize the paper

As with anything, an outline should have an ending. Summarize everything by restating the thesis statement and the overall goal that your paper seeks to achieve. In the conclusion also, you could add your opinion, suggestions or predictions depending on your stand.

A sample outline MLA format template

Below is a template that you can use for a standard 5 paragraph essay outline.

Title page

· Title

· Student name

· Tutor’s name

· Class/subject

I. Introduction

A. A catchy introductory line/ opening thoughts

B. Thesis statement

II. Paragraph 1

A. Main idea 1

B. Examples

1. Example 1

2. Example 2

C. Analysis

1. Analysing example 1

2. Analysing example 2

III. Paragraph 2

A. Main idea 2

B. Examples

1. Example 3

2. Example 4

C. Analysis

1. Analysing example 3

2. Analysing example 4

IV. Paragraph 3

A. Main idea 3

B. Examples

1. Example 5

2. Example 6

C. Analysis

1. Analysing example 5

2. Analysing example 6

V. Conclusion

A. Restate your thesis

B. Summarize the paper

C. Give your opinion or suggestion


Works cited/references

Here’s a sample of an alphanumerical outline on Purdue Owl.

Key takeaways

Outline is not always needed

Writing an outline is not always required especially when writing short papers such as cause and effect essays, argumentative essays, narrative essays, reflection papers or speeches. However, it is highly recommended when you are planning for long papers such as research papers and dissertations.

Use standard MLA formatting guidelines

Is MLA outline format double spaced? We get asked this question far too many times than we can recall.

Unless specified by your professor, you should use the standard formatting guidelines including Times New Roman, font size 12 and double spacing. Your information should be placed in the upper left corner of the page while the title is centered. For more information on MLA formatting, please check out the latest edition of MLA Handbook.

Follow MLA page numeration rules

This handbook recommends using the alphanumerical outline format which begins with the numericals (I, II, III, etc.), followed by capital letters (A, B, C) and then numbers (1, 2, 3). See this in action in the sample MLA outline above.

If you need to include even more sub-points than what we’ve showed in the sample, the formatting could extend like this:

I. Paragraph 1

A. Main idea 1

B. Examples

1. Example 1

2. Example 2

C. Analysis

3. Analysing example 1

4. Analysing example 2

a) Sub-point 1

b) Sub-point 2

Use carets to indicate corrections

This mainly applies for printed papers. You should use carets (ʸ) to show where you have made corrections on your paper.

Write complete sentences

As with most academic rules, you are required to write your thesis statement and other sections of your outline using complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Are you finding it difficult outlining your MLA paper?

Our qualified writers are here to help you create a professionally-structured outline that follows all the rules of the latest MLA Handbook. We offer quick turnaround times and can complete plagiarism-free papers regardless of the academic level, subject or complexity of the outline required.

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