What is an Outline?

An outline is useful because it allows you to assign information to a hierarchy so that you can write a coherent paper. A hierarchy, or hierarchic structure, is a way of classifying information from major to minor, or most important to least important. A major point is supported by minor points. Minor points are supported by evidence. Don’t mistake “least important” for “unimportant.” All information in your paper should be important, or it shouldn’t be included.

A picture of animal sculptures following each other, from largest to smallest

Source: "Hierarchy," Aileron, Flickr

You might have worked with outlines in the past. A research paper outline is no different from any other outline. An alphanumeric outline (using numbers and letters) is the most common format and the one we will use here. Generally speaking, the structure of most outlines adheres to these guidelines:

In the next section, you will see an example of these guidelines.