Outline Meaning In Essay Citations

This is a formal outline for your final research paper. It will present your thesis, the major points in support of that thesis, and the sub-points supporting each major point. It may have additional levels of sub-sub-points if you feel that is necessary.

The basic idea of a formal outline is that different types of letters or numbers (I, A, 1, a, i) represent different levels of the hierarchy of your paper, and sub-levels are indented below main levels. For example:

  1. This is the first main point
    1. This is the first sub-point under I
    2. This is the second sub-point under I
      1. Sub-point B has its own sub-points
      2. But you�d only list them if there were more than one
  2. Here�s the second main point
    1. It has two sub-points
    2. But this one has no sub-sub points

(If you�re using Microsoft Word, you might find yourself getting frustrated by its �helpful� approach to formatting lists. My advice is, don�t sweat the formatting too much. I�d prefer that you follow this or a similar format, but the main thing is that the relations among ideas should be clear. The reader should be able to see at a glance which are the main points, which are the secondary points, which are at the third level of importance, and so on. It should also be obvious which secondaery points belong under which main points. Usually this is accomplished by using different numbering for different levels, and indenting the less important levels. But if you can�t make that work, do whatever you have to so that the relationships are clear.)

Some guidelines for formal outlines are presented in “Developing an Outline” at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Please follow those guidelines when writing your outline.

In addition to the elements of a formal outline, please also:

  • Include a thesis statement at the start.
  • Cite your sources: list all authors used in each section in parentheses at the end of that section
  • Attach a list of sources that includes all the sources used for the outline and no others. This list may differ from the one you submitted for the Preliminary Bibliography, if you have added new sources or eliminated old ones.

Topic and Sentence Outlines

There are two major types of outline:

  • Topic Outline
  • Sentence Outline

A topic outline lists words or phrases. A sentence outline lists complete sentences.

A topic outline arranges your ideas hierarchically (showing which are main and which are sub-points), in the sequence you want, and shows what you will talk about. As the name implies, it identifies all the little mini-topics that your paper will comprise, and shows how they relate.

A sentence outline does all of this, plus it shows exactly what you will say about each mini-topic. Each sentence, instead of simply identifying a mini-topic, is like a mini-thesis statement about that mini-topic. It expresses the specific and complete idea that that section of the paper will cover as part of proving the overall thesis.

The method described below will produce a sentence outline.

Your sentence outline should, if done thoroughly and carefully, represent almost a first draft of your research paper. Once you’ve written it, the paper will practically write itself. You’ll just be filling in the blanks, so to speak—providing specific examples and other support to flesh out and prove the ideas you’ve already sketched out. The purpose, in other words, of doing this work is not to make work for you, but to save you work in the long run by breaking the job down into smaller, manageable tasks.

Tip: Outlines can be very detailed or very general, but the more detail you have the farther you’ll get toward writing your paper. Here’s an example. A paper of 12 pages (about 4,500 words) might have four major topics or points, represented by roman numerals (I - IV) in the outline. This would mean each point would represent about three pages of the final paper. These three pages will include background information, multiple sources, different pieces of evidence and explanation supporting that point, and often a brief description of alternative views and an explanation of why those views are not so convincing. Smaller points supporting each of the main points might then take up a single page, or 2 - 3 paragraphs—again with evidence, explanation, alternative views and so on. Finally, even smaller points under these might correspond to individual paragraphs in the final draft.

Writing the Sentence Outline

  1. Write out your thesis at the top of the page.
  2. Make a list of points you must prove to prove your thesis. What would someone have to agree with, in order to agree with the thesis?
    • These will be the main sections of your paper. Like the thesis, these should be complete, declarative sentences—something you can either prove or disprove.
  3. On a new page, write your first main point. This is the thesis for that section of the paper.
  4. Make a list of the points you have to prove to prove that point. Just as with the main points, these should be complete, declarative sentences—statements you can prove or disprove.
  5. These are your sub-points for that section.
  6. Repeat the process for each of your main points.

Once you have the main points and supporting points written down, it’s time to start organizing. First make sure which are main and which are supporting points. For example, you may find that what you thought was a main point is really part of proving another main point. Or, what you first listed under a main point may need its own section. This may change as you continue to work on the outline and draft the paper.

Now you can decide what order you want to present your ideas in. Again, label them with letters or numbers to indicate the sequence.

Tip: Don’t just settle for one organization. Try out at least two different sequences. You’ll be surprised at the connections that emerge, the possibilities that open up, when you rearrange your ideas. You may find that your thesis suddenly snaps into focus, or that points that seemed unrelated in fact belong together, or that what you thought was a main idea is actually a supporting idea for another point. Good writing is all about re-vision, which literally means “seeing again”—seeing your work from a fresh perspective. You can do this at every stage of the writing process, and especially at the organization stage.

Finally, write up the outline in the order you’ve chosen. Remember to include a thesis statement at the start of the outline, and cite and list your sources.

Reference & Citation in Writing


This resource provides a list of key concepts, words, and phrases that multi-lingual writers may find useful if they are new to writing in the North American educational context. It covers concepts and and key words pertaining to the stages in the writing process, style, citation and reference, and other common expressions in academic writing

Contributors:Heejung Kwon
Last Edited: 2014-12-11 11:20:45


When your professors or instructors say you need to give reference to some work that you used in your paper, it means that you should indicate where you got the work or information from. There are a variety of ways to write references such as APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style. Your professors or instructors will want you to use one of these styles to write references at the end of your paper. When readers read your paper, they should be able to know where you the sources have come from.


You will often hear that you need to cite your work from your professors and instructors. This means that you should indicate where the information that you're using came from. For example, when you want to use some words or phrases from some websites or books, you should let the readers know what kind of sources you used, who created the source, and when the source was created. Basically, you are giving credit to the authors of the source that you used in your paper.


Plagiarizing means that you have taken information, ideas, or phrasing from a source and then used them in your own text without mentioning anything about the author who originally created your sources. In a way, you are stealing something from people without telling the people who had created the original source. For more information on plagiarism, click here. 


When you summarize, you find the main points of the original text and compose a shorter version of the original text. A summary should be able to tell the readers what the original text is about and who the author is. You may use summaries to review some materials about a topic or support your ideas. For more information on writing summaries, click here. 


Paraphrase means that you take some words or sentences from your sources, and put them in your own words. You still need to mention the original author of the words and sentences by appropriate citation style (APA, MLA). You paraphrase words or sentences by changing them to different words, or sentence structures without changing the original meaning. For more information on writing paraphrases, click here.

In-text citation

In-text means in a body of text that you have composed. In-text citation means that you cite the sources that you use in your words, sentences, and paragraphs in the actual body of your essay. Whatever you are using outside information your text, you should cite the sources that you are using in-text. For example

“Keeping diary helps one think about one’s writing” (Smith, 2000, p. 23).


Quote means that you take a word, phrase, or sentence(s) directly or indirectly from the person who originally created that word or phrase or sentences. You then place these inside of quotation marks with an in-text citation.

Direct quote

Direct quote means that you take a word, phrase, sentence directly from the person who created that word, phrase, sentence. You then place this inside of quotation marks with an in-text citation. 

Indirect quote

Indirect quote means that you take a word, phrase, sentence from the person who created that word and put them in your own words. When you use them in your text, you must use them with an in-text citation. In this case, you do not need quotation marks around the word, phrase, or sentence. You should still put in-text citation.

Block quote

Block quote means that you take a paragraph or two from the original source and put them in your text with citation. In a block quote, you do not need quotation mark. Usually, if the quote has more than 40 words, you should take it as a block quote.

Smith (2000) said that a student should keep a diary. According to Smith (2000),

A student needs to keep a diary to think about certain topics and write about them in his or her own words. Keeping a diary gives students the opportunities to express their ideas and reflect on their everyday life and write about how they felt or thought about certain topics (Smith, 2000, p. 23). 

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