How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper in the MLA format

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is widely used by schools and colleges as a formatting norm for research works in humanities subjects, such as language and literature. It regulates the structure and format, so all works in the sphere have the same number of components and homogeneous formatting.

An outline is one of the obligatory structural elements that should be present in any work written in the MLA style. Its purpose is to help keep track of a great number of pages with information. It also helps the reader find the parts dedicated to certain topics quickly, while the writer benefits because it is a nice way to organize thoughts and ideas.

There is a set of MLA requirements you have to align with when writing your research paper:

  • Number outline pages with small Roman numerals: i – 1, ii – 2, iii – 3, iv – 4, v – 5. Put the number at the top right hand corner. Place your last name before each number.
  • Write the word “Outline” and center it. Do not use any punctuation marks after the word.
  • Begin your outline with the thesis. Use a colon after the word “Thesis”. Bear in mind that a thesis is a very laconic version of the whole work, so make sure it contains only compressed information.
  • Choose an outline style that is best for your work. There are several of them; the most commonly used are full sentence, topic, or subheading outlines. The difference between them is the degree of information compression. If you choose to use a subheading outline, follow the principle of parallelism (parallel structures for each element), the principle of coordination (all headings are equally significant), the principle of subordination (subheadings include information that is more specific than the ones provided in the headings), and the principle of division (each heading is followed by two or more subheadings).
  • Choose the outline formatting style. The most commonly used prefix types of outlines are alphanumeric and decimal. An alphanumeric outline uses numeral and letter prefixes before every heading and subheading. The level of headings is marked by capital Roman numerals. The first level of subheadings has capital letters as prefixes, the second has Arabic numerals, and the fourth has lowercase letters. Full stops are used after each prefix.

A decimal outline is similar to an alphanumeric outline; the difference is that it uses numerals as the prefixes. The level of headings is marked by one Arabic numeral prefix, the first level of subheadings has two, the second has three, and the fourth has four. Full stops are used after each letter.

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