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How to Write an Outline for a Term Paper

Writing the outline for a term paper is simple. An outline can be considered blue prints for your essay or notes for your paper’s structure—both would be correct. Some instructors require a particular format for your outline for grades-sake, but if it is just for your reference, your outline can be as vague or elaborate as you’d like.

An outline of some sort will be needed not just for academic writing, but all kinds of writing. The outline could even be in your head, but it’s best to have it in front of you in some form.

Elaborate or Academic Style Outline

This style of outline for term papers involve Roman numerals for specific topics to be touched upon and then lettering for each point or subtopic under than main topic. Note that you can go Roman numeral-letters or letters-Roman numerals; the main thing is that your paper is setup to where you know what your topics are and what your subtopics are.

Using a topic such as women’s right as an example, a simple setup will look similar to:

Women’s Rights

Personal Outline

While you can use the academic style of outline, your personal outline can setup differently. Lettering and numbering can take a backseat to simple hash marks, plus signs, minus signs, and so on. Basically you don’t need to format your paper if the outline is just for your personal reference. If you understand what’s going on in your notes, that’s all that matters.


Research is the most important thing when writing your outline for the term paper. Without research, you wouldn’t need an outline unless you were handling a personal experience essay or something to that effect. When doing an outline based off of you research, you can simple structure it by the way the researched pages are structured.

If you look at an online encyclopedia page such as Wikipedia for instance, the page is usually a topic or subject of a greater topic or subject and there smaller topics underneath that. You can simply look at the context box—if there is one—and use that as your outline. You’ll want to touch on some or all of those topics anyway. In addition to that, you effectively narrow any subject or topic you probably needed to write on.