How to Write an Outline

An outline breaks down the parts of your thesis in a clear, hierarchical manner. Most students find that writing an outline before beginning the paper is most helpful in organizing one's thoughts. If your outline is good, your paper should be easy to write.

The basic format for an outline uses an alternating series of numbers and letters, indented accordingly, to indicate levels of importance. Here is an example of an outline on a paper about the development of Japanese theater:



I. Thesis: Japanese theater rose from a popular to elite and then returned to a popular art form.

The thesis is stated in the first section, which is the introduction.

  • II. Early theatrical forms
    • A. Bugaku
    • B. Sarugaku
    • C. Primitive Noh
    • D. Authors and Audience
  • III. Noh theater
    • A. Authors
    • B. Props
      • 1. Masks
        • a. women
        • b. demons
        • c. old men
      • 2. Structure of Stage
    • C. Themes
      • 1. Buddhist influence
      • 2. The supernatural
    • D. Kyogen interludes
    • E. Audience
  • IV. Kabuki
    • A. Authors
    • B. Props
      • 1. make-up
      • 2. special effects
    • C. Themes
      • 1. Love stories
      • 2. Revenge
    • D. Audience
  • V. Bunraku (puppet) theater
    • A. Authors
    • B. Props
    • C. Themes
      • 1. Love stories
      • 2. Historical romances
    • D. Audience

The body follows the introduction, and breaks down the points the author wishes to make.

Note that some section have subdivisions, others do not, depending on the demands of the paper.

In this outline, II, III, & IV all have similar structure, but this will not necessarily be true for all papers. Some may only have three major sections, others more than the five given here.


VI. Conclusion

Your conclusion should restate your thesis, and never introduce new material.

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