How to Write an Outline in MLA Format: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Write an Outline in MLA Format: Step-by-Step Guide

Writing an essay can be a daunting task, especially when you don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s important to create a proper outline before diving into the writing process. With a careful and well-structured outline, you can ensure that your essay follows a logical hierarchy and that all the necessary points and details are covered.

In MLA format, outlining is a popular way to organize thoughts and ideas. It helps writers to keep track of their main points and subtopics, and to see the overall structure of their essay. Outlining also allows writers to easily revise and rearrange their ideas without losing track of the main purpose and flow of the essay.

There are different ways to create an outline in MLA format, and one of the most commonly used methods is the alphanumeric format. This format uses a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase and lowercase letters, and even decimal numbering. It’s a versatile format that allows you to add or delete points as needed, and to easily see the relationship between different categories and subtopics.

Here is a sample of what an outline in MLA format might look like:

A. Hook

B. Background information

C. Thesis statement

II. Body

A. First main point

1. Subpoint

2. Subpoint

B. Second main point

1. Subpoint

2. Subpoint

A. Restate thesis

B. Summarize main points

C. Closing thoughts

As you can see, the outline is structured and organized in a clear and logical way. Each main point is followed by the necessary subpoints and details, creating a cohesive and well-supported essay.

Remember, outlining is a crucial step in the writing process. It not only helps you stay on track and avoid getting overwhelmed, but it also allows you to see the overall structure of your essay and identify any areas that might need improvement or further development. So, whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, following these tips and creating a thoughtful outline can greatly enhance your writing process.

Part Two: The Proper Hierarchy

1. The Roman Numeral Structure

2. The Capital Letter Structure

Once you’ve listed your main points, you can further break them down into sub-points. These sub-points should be written using capital letters followed by a period. For example: A. Background information.

2a. The Lowercase Letter Structure: If you need to create an additional level of sub-points under the capital letters, you can use lowercase letters followed by parentheses. For example: a) First sub-point.

2b. The Decimal Structure: When you need to further break down the sub-points, you can use decimal numbers. For example: 1) Example of the first sub-point.

Note: This structure can continue to go deeper based on the needs of your outline, but for most outlines, the Roman numeral, capital letter, and lowercase letter structures will suffice.

3. The Proper Format

The proper format for an MLA outline involves the following rules:

I. It provides background information and introduces the thesis statement.
A. Main Point 1 Include the main arguments or ideas supporting your thesis.
1. Sub-point 1 Provide evidence or examples to support the main point.
B. Main Point 2 Include the next main argument or idea.
2. Sub-point 2 Provide evidence or examples to support the main point.
3. Sub-point 3 Provide additional evidence or examples to support the main point.
II. Main Point 3 Include the final main argument or idea.

This structure ensures that your outline is properly organized and easy to follow. It helps you keep your thoughts and ideas in order and ensures that you include all the necessary details to support your thesis statement. Following this structure will improve the overall organization and flow of your paper.

Now that you know the proper hierarchy for creating an outline in MLA format, you can start outlining your own paper. Remember to adapt the structure to fit your own needs, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go along. Creating a well-structured outline is the key to writing a good essay or research paper.

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Understanding the MLA Format

MLA Format: Part 1 – Page Setup and Header

The MLA format requires that you use a standard 8.5 x 11-inch paper size. The top, bottom, left, and right margins should be set to 1 inch each, and the text of your paper should be double-spaced. On the top right corner of each page, you should include a header that contains your last name and the page number. This means that every page of your paper, including the first page, should have this header.

MLA Format: Part 2 – Title and Thesis Statement

The MLA format does not require a separate title page. Instead, the title of your paper should be centered at the top of the first page, followed by your name and the course information. Below this, you should include a concise thesis statement that summarizes the main point of your paper. This thesis statement should be clear, concise, and specific.

MLA Format: Part 3 – Organization and Structure

In MLA format, the main body of your paper should be organized into several sections and subsections. The hierarchy of these sections should be indicated by the use of headings and subheadings. Each heading should be followed by a paragraph or a list of points that support or expand on the main topic. It is important to follow a logical sequence when organizing your paper, starting with the most significant points and moving on to the less significant ones.

MLA Format: Part 4 – In-text Citations and Works Cited

One of the key components of the MLA format is the proper citation of sources within the text of your paper. Whenever you quote or paraphrase information from a source, you must include an in-text citation that indicates the source of that information. Furthermore, at the end of your paper, you must include a list of all the sources you used, which is called the Works Cited page. This page should be formatted according to the MLA guidelines.

MLA Format: Part 5 – Tips and Tricks

Here are a few additional tips to help you effectively use the MLA format:

1. Always proofread your paper for any grammatical or spelling errors.
2. Use a template or a formatting tool to ensure that your paper is properly structured and formatted.
3. Keep track of your sources as you gather information for your research paper.
4. Choose a clear and concise thesis statement that reflects the main point of your paper.
5. Consider using Roman numerals (I, II, III) or decimal numbering (1, 2, 3) to indicate the hierarchy of your headings and subheadings.
6. Delete unnecessary information and condense long sentences to ensure clarity and conciseness.
7. Once you have written the first draft of your paper, revise and edit it again to improve its clarity and coherence.

By understanding and following the guidelines of the MLA format, you will be able to create a well-structured and properly formatted paper that meets the requirements of academic writing.

Choosing the Appropriate Level of Detail

When creating an outline in MLA format, it’s important to choose the appropriate level of detail to include. Your outline should provide a clear and organized structure for your writing, but it shouldn’t be overly detailed or too broad. Here are some tips to help you choose the right level of detail:

1. Consider the Purpose and Audience

Before you start outlining, think about the purpose of your writing and who your audience is. Are you writing a research paper, an essay, or an article? Is your audience familiar with the topic or are they new to it? Understanding your purpose and audience will help you determine how much detail to include in your outline.

2. Use Alphanumeric Structure

MLA format outlines typically use an alphanumeric structure, where each section is labeled with a Roman numeral, followed by a period, and then a capital letter. This helps to organize your main points and sub-points in a clear and logical manner.

3. Start with General Categories

Begin your outline by identifying the main categories or topics you want to cover. These should be broad enough to encompass the major points you want to make in your writing. For example, if you are writing an essay about Michael Jordan, your main categories might include his basketball career, personal life, and impact on the sport.

4. Break Down into Subcategories

Once you have your main categories, you can break them down into subcategories. These should provide more specific details and support for your main points. For example, under the basketball career category, you might have subcategories such as early years, championships, and playoffs.

5. Avoid Being Overly Detailed

While it’s important to provide enough detail to support your main points, be careful not to include too much information in your outline. You should aim for a balance between providing enough detail to guide your writing, but not overburdening yourself with unnecessary information.

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Overall, creating an outline in MLA format requires careful consideration of the appropriate level of detail. By following the steps outlined above, you can create an effective outline that provides a clear structure for your writing, without overwhelming yourself or your audience with unnecessary information.

Organizing Your Ideas

1. Choose a Proper Template

There are different kinds of outlines you can use, such as alphanumeric or full-sentence outlines. Choose the one that best suits your needs and writing style.

2. Start with a Header

At the top of your outline, include a header with your name, the instructor’s name, the course title, and the date. This information should be aligned to the left side of the page.

3. Use Roman Numerals

For the main topics or sections of your essay, use Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.). Each main topic will represent a main point or argument in your essay.

4. Use Capital Letters

Under each Roman numeral, use capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) to indicate subtopics or supporting points that relate to the main topic. These subtopics will provide more detailed information and evidence to support your main points.

5. Use Arabic Numerals

Under each capital letter, use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) to further organize your ideas and provide specific examples or evidence. These numerical subpoints will help you further develop and explain your arguments.

6. Follow a Hierarchy

Make sure to follow a proper hierarchy when organizing your ideas. Each level of the outline should be indented accordingly to show the relationship between different categories and subtopics.

7. Consider Your Own Preferences

Although there are common rules for outlining, you can also tailor your outline to your personal preferences and writing style. Some writers prefer to use complete sentences for each outline level, while others use short phrases or bullet points.

8. Be Careful with Sample Outlines

When looking at sample outlines, keep in mind that they are just examples and may not always follow the same structure or sequence that you need for your own essay. Use them as a reference, but be prepared to revise and make changes as needed.

9. Delete and Revise When Drafting

When you start drafting your essay, don’t be afraid to delete or revise parts of your outline. Your ideas may change as you write, and it’s important to be flexible and adapt your outline accordingly.

Formatting Your Outline

1. Choose a Formatting Style

Before you start outlining, decide whether you want to use alphanumeric or decimal formatting. Alphanumeric outlines use Roman numerals (I, II, III), capital letters (A, B, C), Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), and lowercase letters (a, b, c) to identify different levels of information. Decimal outlines use numbers with decimal points (1.0, 1.1, 1.2) to show the hierarchy of ideas.

2. Create a Header

At the top of your outline, insert a header with your name, the professor’s name, the course title, and the date. This information should be left-aligned and double-spaced. It should appear on the first page only.

4. Organize Your Main Points

5. Add Subtopics

Under each main point, you can add subtopics to further expand on your ideas. Use capital letters (A, B, C) for alphanumeric outlines or lowercase letters (a, b, c) for decimal outlines.

6. Consider Sub-Subtopics

If needed, you can also include sub-subtopics to provide more detailed information. These can be formatted using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) for alphanumeric outlines or lowercase letters (a, b, c) for decimal outlines.

7. Use Indentation

Indent each level of your outline to clearly show the hierarchy of ideas. For alphanumeric outlines, indent each level by one tab or five spaces. For decimal outlines, use a series of periods to indicate each level of indentation.

8. Keep It Consistent

Once you have established a formatting style, keep it consistent throughout your outline. Use the same formatting for each level and make sure the organization is logical.

Here is a sample outline to help you better understand how to format your own:

  • A. Hook
  • B. Background information
  • C. Thesis statement

II. Main Point 1

  • A. Subtopic 1
    • 1. Sub-subtopic 1
    • 2. Sub-subtopic 2
  • B. Subtopic 2
  • C. Subtopic 3

III. Main Point 2

  • A. Subtopic 1
  • B. Subtopic 2

IV. Main Point 3

  • A. Subtopic 1
  • B. Subtopic 2
    • a. Sub-subtopic 1
    • b. Sub-subtopic 2

Following these steps and tips will help you create a well-organized and structured outline. Remember to consider the requirements of your assignment and make any necessary adjustments to your outline to fit the specific instructions. Good luck with your writing!


What is MLA format?

MLA format is a style guide for writing academic papers, particularly in the field of humanities. It provides guidelines for formatting documents, citing sources, and organizing information.

Why is it important to write an outline in MLA format?

Writing an outline in MLA format helps you to organize your thoughts and ideas before you start writing your paper. It also ensures that your paper follows a logical structure and is easy for readers to follow.

What are the basic elements of an outline in MLA format?

An outline in MLA format typically consists of your thesis statement, main points, subpoints, and supporting evidence. It may also include a conclusion or a summary of your main arguments.

How do you format an outline in MLA style?

To format an outline in MLA style, you should use Roman numerals for main points, capital letters for subpoints, Arabic numerals for supporting evidence, and lowercase letters for additional information or clarification. Each level of the outline should be indented and aligned with the left margin.

What are the different formats of research paper outlines?

There are several different formats of research paper outlines, including alphanumeric outlines, decimal outlines, and sentence outlines. Alphanumeric outlines use a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and letters to organize information. Decimal outlines use numbers and decimals to indicate the hierarchy of information. Sentence outlines use full sentences to outline the main points and subpoints of a paper.

What is an outline in MLA format?

An outline in MLA format is a structured plan or framework that organizes the main points, subpoints, and supporting details of a research paper or essay. It follows the guidelines set by the Modern Language Association (MLA) for formatting and citation.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.