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What does a "good" outline look like? What does a full-sentence outline look like? How do I create one?

An outline is a tool used  to organize written ideas about a topic or thesis into a logical order. Outlines arrange major topics, subtopics, and supporting details.  Writers use outlines when writing their papers in order to know which topic to cover in what order.  Outlines for papers can be very general or very detailed. Check with your instructor to know which is expected of you.  Here are some examples of different outlines. You can also learn more by watching the short video below .

The most common type of outline is an alphanumeric outline , or an outline that uses letters and numbers in the following order:

I.      Roman Numerals

A.    I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, etc.

B.    Represent main ideas to be covered in the paper in the order they will be presented

II.    Uppercase Letters

A.   A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, etc.

B.    Represent subtopics within each main idea

III.       Arabic Numbers

   A.    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc.

   B.    Represent details or subdivisions within subtopics

IV.    Lowercase Letters

   A.    a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, l, m, etc.

   B.    Represent details within subdivisions

Outline with  main ideas, subtopics, subdivisions and details :

Thesis: Drugs should be legalized.  

I. Legalization of drugs would reduce crime rates

A. Prohibition  

1. Before Prohibition, crime rate related to alcohol were low-to-medium  

2. During Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were high

a. Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increase 41%  

b. Federal prison population increased 366%  

3. After Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were very low 

B. Amsterdam/Netherlands 

1. Before Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates were high

2. After Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates dropped

II. Legalization of drugs would benefit the economy

1. Local taxes 

2. State taxes 

3. Federal taxes

B. Business Owners

1. Drug production  

2. Drug quality testing  

3. Drug sales

III. Legalization of drugs would benefit public health

A. Quality of drugs would increase

1. Fake/dangerous drugs eliminated

2. Fake/placebo drugs eliminated

3. Amount of active ingredient standardized and stabilized

B. Drug users with addiction issues would get more help

1. Hospitals

3. Public health clinics

C. Your people would be less likely to start drugs

F ull-sentence outline :

  • Each roman numeral (I, II, III, IV…) indicates the start of a new paragraph. So I. is the first sentence of the introduction, II. is the first sentence of the first paragraph of the body, III. is the first sentence of the second paragraph of the body, and so on.
  •  Each capital letter (A, B, C, D…) indicates a main point within the structure of the paragraph. So in our introduction, A. is the attention getter, B. is another attention getter, C. describes a point that makes the topic personal, and D. is the thesis statement.
  • Each Arabic numeral (1, 2, 3, 4…) indicates a sentence or piece of supporting evidence for each main point. So in the first body paragraph (II.), point A. is a general statement that needs some additional support, so 1. provides a supporting statement of fact and the citation of where that information came from. 2. provides another sentence with supporting evidence, as does 3.

Example of a full-sentence outline:

Warming Our World and Chilling Our Future

Thesis Statement: Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.

I. Global warming is alive and well and thriving in Antarctica.

      A. In winter 1995, an iceberg the size of Rhode Island broke off.

      B. In October 1998, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off.

      C. All of us have a lot at stake.

            1. Now, I am what you call a “country mouse.”

            2. I love the outdoors.

            3. You can be a “city mouse,” and like clean air, good water, and not having to worry about sun.

      D. Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.

II. Global warming is a gradual warming of the Earth from human activities (citation).

      A. It is characterized by a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

            1. Each year five tons of CO2 are pumped into the atmosphere (citation).

            2. The carbon dioxide traps heat.

            3. 1998 set temperature records (citation).

      B. Carbon pollutants also eat a hole in the ozone layer (citation).

            1. In 1998 this hole set a size record.

            2. This allows more ultraviolet radiation to reach Earth.

      C. If this problem is not corrected; we may see disastrous results (citation).

            1. There could be dramatic climate changes.

                  a. There could be drought in the middle of continents.

                  b. There could be many severe storms.

                  c. There could be rising sea levels that would destroy coastal areas.

            2. There could be serious health problems.

                  a. There could be an increase in skin cancer.

                  b. There could be an increase in cataracts.

                  c. There could be damaged immune systems.

      D. Now that you understand what global warming is and why it is important, let’s examine its major causes.

III. The loss of woodlands adds to global warming (citation).             …..

IV. Industrial emissions accelerate global warming (citation).             …..

V. Personal energy consumption magnifies global warming (citation).             …..

VI. In conclusion, if you want to know why we have global warming, listen for the falling trees, watch the industrial smokestacks darkening the sky, and smell the exhaust fumes we are pumping into the air.

        A. Gore told a story on how global warming can sneak up on us.

        B. Addressing the National Academy of Sciences, the vice president said, “If dropped into a pot of boiling water….”

        C. The more we know about global warming, the more likely we are to jump and the less likely we are to be cooked.

Links & Files

  • Outline Template

  • Reading and Writing
  • Weekly Written Assignments
  • Research Papers
  • Last Updated Jul 27, 2022
  • Views 678015
  • Answered By Kerry Louvier

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Comments (41)

  • This is very helpful. Thanks a lot! by krystal on Apr 01, 2015
  • Very nice and very helpful. I mean my parents are making me do a outline about a state. by Zelda on Apr 09, 2015
  • Very helpful, it cleared things up a lot for me, so thanks! by Roxy on Oct 05, 2015
  • Very helpful! Thank You! (Thumbs up!!) by Mavis on Oct 14, 2015
  • Were very helpful Thanks! by annette on Oct 18, 2015
  • Thank you guys this helped me out big time! It's actually saving my English grade from dropping. ;) And I really didn't know how a 'good' outline was suppose to look like soo Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!! by Tiffanie on Nov 16, 2015
  • Thanks so much! This is perfect, especially the way you've explained what each area should contain. It's something writers need to know but so often get wrong. by Tammy on Oct 28, 2016
  • Thank you!! This was very helpful, as I am a watch and do type of person! by Alisa on Mar 23, 2017
  • The hardest part in writing a paper is the outlining. this is real good and helpful. thanks very much. by Archie on Jul 25, 2017
  • You made outlining easy for me Am forever grateful by joana jewel on Oct 02, 2017
  • This is a great video, very helpful and easy to follow. by cvelez on Apr 25, 2018
  • This was VERY helpful. Thank you! by Donna on May 18, 2018
  • Exactly what I needed. Thank you. by Sharon on Aug 12, 2018
  • i totally had no idea about the outline, thank you so much. by ngare irene on Aug 16, 2018
  • THIS!! Thank-you for taking the time to do this, I found it very helpful. by Lauren B. on Sep 22, 2018
  • After 45 minutes of surfing the web, this is the first helpful article I have come across in my attempt to find an outline example. Thank you. by Kate Metcalfe on Oct 10, 2018
  • Thank you so much. This was very helpful. The video and explanation was very easy to follow. by Linda Armstrong on Feb 18, 2019
  • Thankyou for putting the outline in full detail it helped me out alot. by Rosio on Mar 19, 2019
  • Thank you very much! Very helpful! by Loretha M on Apr 09, 2019
  • Exactly what I need. This is so helpful. Thank you!!! by My Le on May 15, 2019
  • thank you so much. it's such a big help. God Bless by flor timbal on Jun 21, 2019
  • This was extremely helpful towards my assignment that I am required to do in order to receive a grade. by Rhelle on Jul 27, 2019
  • Very, very helpful!!!!!!!! :D by Miranda S. on Aug 23, 2019
  • I found this video most useful. Thank you! by Ibironke on Sep 14, 2019
  • very helpful, its been a long time since I had to d this. This was by far the easiest to understand. Thanks, by Ms P on Apr 15, 2020
  • interesting thank you so much by Fausat Wellington on Apr 25, 2020
  • Many thanks! Very helpful, simple and effective. by Oliver on May 25, 2020
  • Great video...... Thanks by Belle on Jun 17, 2020
  • This is a great tutorial! Thanks by Jeff on Jun 22, 2020
  • This is good to explain. regards Devansh Chaurasiya by Devansh Chaurasiya on Jun 26, 2020
  • Thank you. This is very helpful. More power!!! by Gina Fatawil on Aug 11, 2020
  • This was super effective for my English class thanks!! by Jackie B on Sep 11, 2020
  • Overall, its very interesting by Yban Meradores on Sep 11, 2020
  • excellent explanations. by very helpful . Thanks on Sep 23, 2020
  • Very helpful, it makes me complete university assignment with ease by Manje on Nov 14, 2020
  • thank you ,my history teacher was making my class do outlines and i didn't know what to put in one thxs,thxs,and thxs by Maggie on Feb 17, 2021
  • Thanks just what I needed by Royce Castellanos on Apr 05, 2021
  • Thank you very much. This was really, really helpful. I had no idea how to do an outline and the other sites only says what it should be there, no examples. This was something that guided me and I could finish my outline fine. by Maria on Jun 25, 2021
  • This is wonderful, real. I have always been wondering, given a research title where do one get all the subtitles from but now I perfectly understand...Thank you. by Karen Mwangangi on Aug 09, 2021
  • Great video indeed, very helpful and understandable. by Linah on Sep 27, 2021
  • Very concise with with well thought-out examples. Thanks. by Definite on Mar 16, 2022

what is outline in report writing

Report outline   //

Report outline, instructions.

Report Writing Format: Lab & Business Report [Examples + Tips]

All students go through this, sooner or later. Report writing is like an initiation into college. You are not a real student until you squeeze out at least one report.

That’s why we recommend you learn the main report-building rules to save time in the future.

5 Key features of report writing.

These are general principles to know when you have the assignment to write a report. From the aspects mentioned above, you can already feel the character and style of a report.

It is straightforward, clearly structured, and prosperous for facts. Therefore, reports are mostly suitable for business, natural sciences, medicine, and other scientific areas.

Ready to learn more?

Here you can find a detailed explanation of report writing rules, purposes, and structure . Special attention is paid to different types of reports; also, don’t miss excellent tips on report presentation .

Let’s go! 👉👉

🧱 What Is a Report?

  • 📑 Report Outline

🧪 Lab Report Writing Format

  • 🧲 Physics Report Writing Format
  • ⚗️ Chemistry Report Writing Format

💼 Business Report Writing Format

👩‍🏫 report presentation.

Simply put, a report is a statement . It is a proposition/analysis that informs the audience about a particular subject.

Report - a description of an event or situation (by Cambridge Dictionary).

One detail that we would add to the Cambridge definition – a report can also describe an issue or an object.

Depending on a research area and subject, the content of a report varies, and so does its nature. However, regardless of your topic, a report should represent some information based on collected and analyzed data. That is, while working on a report, pay very distinct attention to the evidence that supports your words.

Here are the crucial features of any report:

  • A report is structured and easy to follow
  • A report analyzes the issue
  • A report presents facts and findings
  • A report has a particular purpose and audience
  • A report suggests recommendations on an issue

This list is only the beginning of what we are going to tell you further.

Let’s see what the essential requirements of report writing format are.

Challenges of Building a Report

Before you start writing your report assignment, it is constructive to figure out what its challenges are.

These are the aspects that a good report should meet—all of them.

  • A clear framework . With the help of a framework, you refer to the question and stay within a defined scope. Having a rigorous pattern is crucial since you’ll be addressing many related terms and issues in the course of the report. However, your task is not to deepen into those questions and stick to your plan.
  • Focus. Coming from the previous point, here, the discussion is about having a distinct central thought/idea. No high-quality report has a vague research focus. Remember that you are expected to discuss and solve an exact question within an exact framework.
  • Development. This aspect requires you to make your work fluent and smooth. Control the logical connections between paragraphs and make sure that the topic is not just dryly retold. Rather, disclose the issue like you tell a story.

Report Writing Challenges.

  • Organization and style. A good report requires a lucid organization with subsections and logically structured content. Besides that, make sure to follow one style, both writing and formatting. It says about good manners and respect for your reader.
  • Facts. Although a report can contain personal points of view, its core should be based on relevant, checked information. Seek the evidence and examples from authoritative sources and build up your logic on it.

Types of Report Writing

All reports have standard features like rigorous structurization, the importance of valid data, and intense language formality.

Now let’s figure out the classification of types of reports. This section will review some main types of report writing, their peculiarities, and aspects requiring special attention.

A lab report is a description of an experiment or any other kind of laboratory work that you have conducted. Therefore, the purpose of a lab report is to tell what, how, and why you have done it. Also, a lab report requires describing findings and their significance thoroughly.

Be able to explain all the terms you use in work, all the procedures, and results. An excellent understanding of the topic is necessary for a successful report.

Business Report

A business report serves as a company tool to help in decision-making processes. There are various types of business reports used for different purposes. For example:

  • Recommendation report
  • Investigative report
  • Research studies report
  • Periodic report
  • Situational report

and other…

Research Report

A research report can be written on any subject. Many classes will require you to write a report on a research project you’ve conducted. Your main goal is to make it clear and comprehensive so that a reader understands each step.

Book Report

Unlike a book review, a book report centers on the overall summary: the plot, characters, main thoughts of a book, etc. That is to say, a book report is a brief retelling that refers to the key points and characters. Accordingly, a book report structure differs a lot from a research or business report structure, but about that later.

📑 The Content Outline of a Report

As we already mentioned, it is hard to create one universal outline for all types of reports. They all vary according to their logic and individual requirements. However, it is still possible to draw a list of points vital for a good report.

One thing that is 100% universal – rich, fruitful academic language. Lucky you! We have a fantastic compilation of analytical words & phrases for any purpose. Don’t hesitate to borrow some cool writing ideas from our article.

let’s see what a common content outline of a report is.

Title Page of a Report

Main parts: header with the short title of the report or your last name, depending on the citation style; the full title of the report, your name.

Tips and tricks:

  • Follow the rules of the appropriate citation style;
  • Consult your instructor or follow these title page examples .

Main parts: a research question and main research findings; research methods used; conclusions and recommendations.

  • Keep it brief – up to 150-200 words.
  • Don’t make references to the text of the actual report.
  • Write it after completing the rest of the report writing.

Table of Contents in a Report

Main parts: headings and subheadings with their corresponding pages.

  • Include appendices and references in your table of contents;
  • Don’t mention the abstract and title page.

Report Introduction

Main parts: background information, research question (or hypothesis), and significance of the chosen problem.

  • Avoid including too much background information – get to the point right from the start;
  • Do your best to explain why your topic is important and why readers should care about it.

Main Body of a Report

Main parts: literature review, methodology, research findings, discussion, and limitations.

  • In a literature review, explore the different opinions on the question and point out a gap in the existing literature;
  • When writing a report, choose a good research paper topic that genuinely interests you;
  • In the research findings section, avoid analysis – simply write what you have found out;
  • In the discussion paragraph, include a detailed analysis of your findings: make it the most prominent part of your paper;
  • Remember that quality report writing is impossible without the review of limitations. Be sure to acknowledge that your research may have some drawbacks.

Main parts: a brief summary of all previous elements.

  • When writing reports, never include any new information in the conclusion part – repeat only what you have already said;
  • Make it up to 10% of the total word count.

References in a Report

Main parts : all the sources used in your research (for text references, images, or tables).

  • Double-check that each of your in-text citations has a corresponding entry in the references section;
  • Vice versa – make sure that every entry from the reference list has at least one in-text citation.
  • When writing reports, don’t forget the alphabetical order and special rules for the works of the same author.

Main parts : tables, graphs, pictures, questionnaires, etc.

  • Always write where you have borrowed something from (unless you have created it yourself).
  • Filed experts will probably read appendices as they seek all technical details.
  • Order appendices as they appear in the text.

Basic Report Outline.

As already mentioned before, in a lab report, you need to describe every detail step-by-step. A good lab report consists of a thorough description of research goals, methods, procedures, findings, and results.

A lab report is mostly used in natural sciences, for example, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc.

Below are parts of a lab report you should consider.

  • Title Page. Use a title that comprehensively characterizes your lab work focus.
  • Abstract. Sketch your goals, questions, and findings in a brief paragraph at the beginning.
  • Introduction . Refer to the background and key theories, including your hypothesis and objectives.
  • Methods . Depict equipment, procedures, and materials, including all calculations and obstacles.
  • Results . Introduce your findings visually. Discuss results based on these visualizations.
  • Discussion. Sum up the results, refer to the hypothesis, and theorize your findings.
  • Conclusion. Revise key points, relate to the problem, and note the significance of the research.
  • References Section. Make a one-style list of all sources used.
  • Appendices. Include all the materials that were too detailed to include in the main body.

These were the parts most likely to be required for your lab report.

Remember that if you follow thorough guidelines and do everything step-by-step, chances for success are way higher.

Now let’s quickly see lab reports on different subjects. What are their specificities?

🧲 Physics Lab Report Writing Format

The above-described structure is suitable for a physics lab report format . Your main goal in this piece of paper is to demonstrate how well you understand every step of work and its results.

To make your job easier, here is a great checklist. Go through these questions several times while writing a physics lab report.

  • Will your friend or any random person be able to read your report and understand everything precisely? In other words, is it graspable for the masses?
  • Will a person from your field be able to understand what you have done by just reading an abstract?
  • Will you understand your lab report in a couple of months and repeat or thoroughly explain all the steps?

These questions will help you a lot in deciding what to include or exclude in your work.

We have only left to show you excellent examples of a physics lab report format, and we wish you luck!

Check out these:

⚗️ Chemistry Lab Report Writing Format

Frankly speaking, there’s no significant difference in chemistry and physics lab report formats. The outline is the same, goal and logic as well.

For a fantastic guide to a chemistry lab report format, check the following sources:

  • Writing a Lab Report (Chemistry); Lewis University
  • Guide for Writing a Lab Report – for chemistry and biochemistry students; Concordia University
  • How to Write a Chemistry Lab Report: 14 Steps

A business report is a flexible format that varies according to the purpose. With the help of business reports, people exchange information and make decisions. Thus, it is essential to be very careful with everything you include in your business report.

A significant difference from other types of reports is that in a business report, you can deviate from formal academic language. It means that the primary factor in business report writing is the audience—your language and style change by who your listeners are. However, don’t take it as a total freestyle, a report is a report, and you must follow the rules.

For wholesome guidelines on a business report outline, here are some good sources:

  • How to Write a Formal Business Report (With Examples)
  • How to Write a Business Report
  • Business Reports Helpsheet; The University of Melbourne
  • Structuring a Business Report

Another distinctive feature of a business report is its intention to persuade. Unlike the chemistry lab report format, the business paper provides active recommendations. Suggesting a new method or alternative strategy, a business report states why its solutions deserve attention.

We recommend you read this business report prepared by Southwest Texas State University students. Inside, you can find an effective structurization, relevant data, and sufficient interpretation of the findings.

Business Report Examples

We have compiled a list of business report examples to help you get an idea of how such papers might look:

  • Strategy report on product launch in the Australian market .
  • Internationalization of business: Management report .
  • UK electricity companies: Industry report .
  • Samsung company: Contemporary marketing report .
  • Sunoco, Inc.: Financial analysis report .
  • Report on e-business between China and the USA .
  • A Report on the Victorian Fine Furnishings company .
  • Coca-Cola: Financial research report .
  • Entrepreneurial organisation report .
  • Technical communication: Ethical codes report .
  • Business proposal report for a child day care .
  • Kmart Australia: Business report .
  • Report on Microsoft Canada: Xbox marketing .
  • Electronic marketing report for Horizon Travel Company .
  • Netflix: Strategy report .
  • Project Execution Through Risk Addressing (PETRA) analysis report .
  • Riverside Electronics Plc: Financial report .
  • Strategic service vision report: Paws n’ Tails .
  • Strategic HR report: Work plan of a modern company .
  • Premier Restaurants Latvia: Internship report .
  • A business report on Buddy’s Floor Barn .
  • Management report: Tesco Personal Finance .
  • Johnson-Venter report on recruitment and selection procedures .
  • Amazon strategic audit report .
  • Lego Group: Comprehensive report .
  • CD Projekt S.A.: Business report .
  • Advanced marketing strategy of Nokorola: Report .
  • Report on George at ASDA .
  • Samsung strategic marketing report .
  • Landshark Co.: Cost report for individual loans section .
  • The report of Hubbard Computers using Dell Computers as pure play company .
  • Industry innovation report: Amazon .
  • CFO report on Colgate-Palmolive Company .
  • Management accounting report of Nissan company .
  • Apple Inc.’s company analysis and financial report .
  • Accounting summary report: The case of Competition Bikes .
  • Colgate-Palmolive Company: Financial research report .
  • Report for Domino’s Pizza Enterprises .
  • Halfords Group Plc.: Financial reporting .
  • Business and economics report: Barr .
  • ASOC plc: Report for a potential investor .
  • Accounting report on Queen Limited .
  • Financial report of Lockheed Martin Corporation .
  • Financial analysis report for ANZ Banking Group, Virgin Blue Holdings, and Wesfarmers Ltd .
  • Organization systems evaluation report .
  • Financial research report: Apple, Inc .
  • Procurement and supply report .
  • Quanta Airline business report .
  • Fosters Australia firm’s security valuation report .
  • A business analysis report on David Jones Limited and Premier Investments Limited .

Once your report is written, you might be asked to present it. Let’s quickly go through the primary rules of how to make an excellent report presentation.

  • First and foremost, make a very detailed and accurate plan . Remember a simple rule: the more you talk, the more mistakes you make. That is why having a thorough outline of what you are going to say is so essential. It will help you to always keep to the main ideas and messages. No need to deepen into calculation details and other technical components.

The more you talk, the more mistakes you make.

  • Like any other presentation, a report presentation needs a clear structure. Luckily, you have already worked on it while writing. Your task is to present this structure to the audience and, more importantly, don’t switch between parts without smooth links. In other words, make sure that every element has a natural transition from the previous one. This will make your speech stable, fluent, and professional.
  • Denote your goals from the very beginning . There is no need to explain that being clear about what you want is one of the critical factors in perceiving your speech. Once you know your aims for this presentation and broadcast them to the audience, the whole speech takes a different form and tone: confident, straightforward, and efficient.

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. (Albert Einstein).

  • The way you open your report presentation is decisive for the whole performance. We won’t stop repeating that the right hook is the best solution for a strong opening. With the help of a hook, you will be able to catch the audience’s attention. Don’t lose any second; read our excellent guide on writing successful hooks, with samples and explanations: Catchy Hooks: Guidelines, Ideas, Samples .

If you manage to make a really good hook, your listeners will think about it throughout the speech and maybe after.

Here are some additional materials that will help you to deal with report presentation preparations:

  • How to Write a Research Report and Give a Presentation
  • 18 Tips for Presenting a Report Effectively

Done! You are now ready to build a report presentation.

It’s ok if now you feel that report writing is almost as easy as snapping your fingers

Use the tips above, complete your report as soon as possible, and finally, relax.

Good luck with your report writing 🍀

If you have any questions, post them below in the comments section 👇

Writing an Effective Research Proposal Sample in 3 Steps

How to write a thesis statement: tips & examples.

How to Write a Research Paper Outline In 7 Steps

Matt Ellis

A research paper outline is a supporting document that lists all the topics to include in a paper in the intended order, usually divided by paragraphs. The typical outline of a research paper also consists of other details like subtopics and evidential sources to help the writer stay organized. Some even have individual sentence topics and early ideas for phrasing. 

Want to know how to write a research paper outline? This guide explains step by step what to include and how to write one yourself, including research paper outline examples. 

Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

What is a research paper outline? 

The outline is an integral part of how to write a research paper . The main purpose of a research paper outline is to structure the topics, data, and all other inclusions in the paper (like direct quotes) so you stay organized and don’t forget anything. 

Conventionally, writers compose outlines after choosing a thesis statement and sourcing research evidence, but before writing the first draft . Making structural changes is far more efficient in the outlining phase than after you write the first draft; you can remove certain topics early on without wasting time writing them and add new topics before the drafting phase so you can write everything all at once. 

The typical outline of a research paper is broken up into sections and paragraphs , listing each paragraph’s topic and the related evidence or data to include therein. The depth of detail can change depending on your writing style or the requirements of the paper, as we explain below. 

Are there different kinds of research paper outlines?

In short, you decide what details to include in your research paper outline, although the requirements of the assignment influence what’s necessary. For example, a basic college research paper outline for a one-page assignment might contain only a list of four or five paragraph topics, whereas a formal research paper for a scientific study might outline each sentence in all five parts of a research paper: introduction, review of literature, methods, results, and discussion. 

Research paper outlines can be one level, two level, and so on, depending on their intricacy. One-level outlines display just the section headings or main topics, while four-level outlines get very detailed with paragraph and sentence breakdowns. 

There are three popular formats for research paper outlines: alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal . Below, we’ll explain the details of each and illustrate their differences with the research paper outline examples, focused on the same topic: “Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Who’s the Best Basketball Player?”

Alphanumeric research paper outline

Alphanumeric is the most common outline format—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, specific points for each subtopic as Arabic numerals, and further details for individual points as lowercase letters. 

You would write the information in quick blurbs—just a few words—instead of complete sentences. 

Alphanumeric research paper outline example

I.  Michael Jordan

A. Career Highlights

1. Six NBA Championships

a. Six NBA Finals MVP

2. US Olympics Basketball Team

a. 1984 Gold Medalist

b. 1992 Gold Medalist

3. Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections

a. Three NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards

B. Achievements

1. Record-holder scoring average

a. Regular season (30.12 points per game)

b. Playoffs (33.45 points per game)

2. Other accolades

a. 1996 Space Jam

b. Owner of Charlotte Hornets

II. LeBron James

1. Four NBA Championships

a. Four NBA Finals MVP

a. 2008 Gold Medalist

b. 2012 Gold Medalist

3. Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selections

1. Philanthropy

a. LeBron James Family Foundation

b. Social activism

a. 2021 Space Jam

b. First player to accumulate $1 billion as an active player

III. Analysis and Discussion

A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better

Full-sentence research paper outline 

Full-sentence research paper outlines have the same organization as alphanumeric outlines—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, subtopic points as Arabic numerals, and details for each point as lowercase letters. 

However, the significant difference is that you would write the information in incomplete sentences instead of quick blurbs. The advantage is that your outline is more specific and easier to share with colleagues when working as a team. The disadvantage is that it takes a little longer to write. 

Full-sentence research paper outline example

I. Michael Jordan is often considered the greatest basketball player of all time.

A. Jordan’s career in basketball is full of accomplishments and accolades. 

1. During his career, Jordan won six NBA Championships.

a. Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP all six times he was eligible. 

2. Jordan twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team. 

a. Jordan’s first Olympics was in 1984 when he won the gold medal.

b. Jordan won a second gold medal as part of the 1992 “Dream Team.” 

3. Jordan was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game fourteen times.

a. Jordan won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times. 

B. Jordan’s legacy encompasses achievements on and off the court.

1. Jordan still holds a couple of significant records in the NBA. 

a. Jordan holds the record for the highest average of points per game  during the regular season (30.12 points per game).

b. Jordan also holds the record for the highest average of points per  game in the playoffs (33.45 points per game).

2. Jordan has notable success even when not playing basketball. 

a. Jordan starred in the original 1996 film Space Jam.

b. Today, Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets.

II. LeBron James is often considered Jordan’s strongest rival for the greatest basketball player. 

A. James’s career mimics, and in some cases surpasses, that of Jordan’s career. 

1. During his career, James won four NBA Championships. 

a. James was named NBA Finals MVP all four times he was eligible. 

2. Like Jordan, James twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team. 

a. James won the 2008 gold medal as part of the US basketball team.

b. James won the gold medal again in 2012. 

3. James was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game eighteen times. 

a. James won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times. 

B. James has a rich life outside of basketball as well. 

1. More than Jordan, James is known for his philanthropic work. 

a. James started the LeBron James Family Foundation charity. 

b. James fearlessly took public stances on controversial social issues.

2. Aside from charity, James has a few other distinctions from his lifetime. 

a. James starred in the 2021 Space Jam remake. 

b. James is the first NBA player to accumulate $1 billion as a player.

III. Considering the highlights of both athletes’ careers, who is better? 

A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better. 

Decimal research paper outline 

Decimal research paper outlines forgo the alphanumeric system and instead use a system of numbers with increasing decimal points—with main topics listed as whole numbers (1 or 1.0), subtopics with one decimal point (1.1), points under a subtopic with two decimal points (1.1.1), and further details with three decimal points ( 

Each new piece of information uses the subsequent number (1.1.1, 1.1.2, etc.), so you always know where you are in the outline. You would write the content for each line in quick blurbs, just like the original alphanumeric formal. 

Decimal research paper outlines are the most thorough but can get complicated. They’re recommended for writers who prefer technical precision or for lengthy outlines with many topics and subtopics. 

Decimal research paper outline example

1 Michael Jordan

1.1 Career Highlights

1.1.1. Six NBA Championships

1.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team

1.1.3 Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections

1.2 Achievements

1.2.1 Record-holder scoring average

1.2.2 Other accolades

2 LeBron James

2.1 Career Highlights

2.1.1 Four NBA Championships

2.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team

2.1.3 Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selection

2.2 Achievements

2.2.1 Philanthropy

2.2.2 Other accolades

3 Analysis and Discussion

3.1 Of course, Michael Jordan is better 

7 steps to follow when outlining a research paper 

1   choose your thesis and gather sources.

Your outline is not the first step in writing a research paper. Before that, you first need to choose a thesis and then gather primary and secondary sources to back it up. 

Your thesis is essentially what the research paper is about. Your thesis is given to you in some assignments, but sometimes, as with independent research, you’ll have to develop one on your own. 

Once you’ve settled on a thesis, you’ll need evidence to support it. Collect all the relevant sources and data early on so that you know what to write about. Researching often reveals new aspects of your topic that you hadn’t known about before. It may dispel any misinterpretations you have—better to find out you’re wrong sooner rather than later. For help on how to cite your sources, use our free Citation Generator . 

Keep in mind that the outline is just one part of writing a research paper. If you want to read more advice, take a look at our full guide on how to write a research paper . 

2   Make a list of all the topics, subtopics, and points you want to cover

Go through your research and note each topic, subtopic, and supporting point. Be sure to keep related information together. Remember that everything you discuss in your paper should relate to your thesis, so omit anything that seems tangential. 

If you’ve highlighted any specific passages or quotes from your sources, feel free to include them too. They aren’t necessary for all research paper outlines, but they save you time when you’re in the middle of writing your first draft. 

3   Choose the best type of research paper outline for the assignment

Choose the type of research paper outline that best matches your topic, the assignment’s length, and the complexity of your paper. Simple papers only require simple outlines, but more advanced topics with lots of research can benefit from more detailed outlines. 

Consider whether you’re sharing your outline with other team members or whether you’re writing it solo. Likewise, consider the length and amount of topics. The decimal format can help organize long papers, but feel free to stick with alphanumeric if it makes you comfortable. 

4   Consider the structure and sequence of your topics

Before actually writing the research paper outline, think long and hard about the order in which you present your topics. What is the most logical sequence? What structure would communicate most clearly to your readers, who may be unfamiliar with these topics? 

Keep in mind that some topics only make sense if they come after other topics. Before presenting new findings or revelations, you may want to add background or contextual information first. All other factors being equal, a chronological sequence is often the most logical structure. 

5   Create the framework for your outline

Rather than writing your research paper outline entirely at once, start with just the framework. Try putting the main topics in order without yet including any subtopics or supporting points. 

Starting with the framework gives you a clear look at the backbone of your research paper. Now would be a good time to rearrange the order if there’s a problem or add a new topic if you find something is missing. It’s never too late to go back and conduct more research to flesh out the areas you feel are lacking. 

6 Add in more details

After you’re satisfied with the framework, go ahead and add the details. Most research paper outlines benefit from including the paragraph structure , so feel free to add lines about your topic sentence, development/support sentences, and conclusion for each paragraph. 

If you want to get meticulous, you can add a few notes about sentence structure . Be careful of getting too detailed, though—otherwise, you’re writing a first draft instead of an outline! 

7 Revise to improve structure

Finally, check your completed outline to see if there’s room for improvement. This is your last chance before you begin the first draft. 

Double-check that all your topics are presented in the optimal order for your reader. Also, look over your research notes again to see if you’ve forgotten anything. Once your outline is the way you want it, it’s time to begin writing your research paper. 

Research paper outline FAQs

What is a research paper outline.

A research paper outline is a supporting document that defines the structure of a research paper. The author creates the outline before the first draft to stay on track when writing . 

How is a research paper outline structured?

Research paper outlines are generally divided into sections, paragraphs, and individual sentences or points. The amount of detail in a research paper outline varies depending on the writer’s style, the assignment requirements, and the complexity of the topic. 

What are the different formats of research paper outlines?

Three popular formats for research paper outlines are alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal .

what is outline in report writing

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Creating an Outline

What is an outline.

Creating an outline is a good step to take while writing your paper. It allows you to brainstorm new ideas and make sure your paper will be organized , focused, and supported . Many writers find it easier to write from an outline instead of starting from a blank page.

When should I write an outline?

Writing an outline can take place at any time during the writing process. Although it is most commonly used before beginning to write or doing research, this process can also take place during or after writing your paper to make sure your points are organized and make sense.

How do I write an outline?

Identify your topic or thesis statement .

Decide what points you would like to discuss during your paper.

Put your points in logical, numerical order so that each point connects back to your main point.

Write possible transitions between paragraphs.

Remember that your outline should serve as a rough idea of how your paper will develop; it does not have to be very formal or exact.

Sample outline

This is a rough idea of the format an outline can have:

Secondary or supporting idea to main idea I

Secondary idea to B

Secondary idea to 2

Secondary or supporting idea to main idea II

You can use any form of this example to write your outline. Everyone organizes differently, so it is important to do what works best for you. If you have any questions, feel free to come to the Writing Center and work with a tutor on creating your outline.

  • Kathleen Jones White Writing Center
  • Stabley Library, Room 203 431 South Eleventh Street Indiana, PA 15705
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Creating and using outlines

Outlines are a necessary part of writing. period. outlines are like a roadmap. they give you direction; they tell you where to go. working without an outline is like trying to get from oregon to new york and only knowing you need to go east. in technical writing, outlines can serve multiple purposes. one is help the writer organize ideas and evidence, and the other to communicate your plan of development clearly to the person who has the authority to move your project forward. therefore, the various parts of your outline should make sense to you and communicate your ideas clearly to your audience. as you begin to outline your report: indicate main idea/thesis at top. name and number the major sections of the report at the left margin. add details for each section underneath the major section. write in complete sentences when presenting details.indent the details related to each section underneath the names of major sections. alternate between numbers and letters to indicate different levels: i. a. 1. a. 1) a) take a peek at the following three-minute video which explains how helpful outlines can be in writing a technical report:.

Other suggestions about creating an outline from your research:

  • Develop as specific an outline as you can: it shows you what information you must gather and, as importantly, what information you can ignore.
  • Use the indexes, tables of contents, and headings within chapters of books or articles from databases selectively for just the information you need.
  • Divide your work into manageable, hour-long chunks (make progress rather than relying on big blocks of weekend or vacation time).

Before you begin your detailed, formal outline, you might wish to consider the following:

  • Do any preliminary reading necessary to construct a rough outline.
  • Develop a rough outline with major section headings you are considering for this report.
  • Identify your information sources, and make a bibliographic citation for each.
  • Take notes as your read determining in which sections each source material might best work.
  • Provide in-text citations as you develop your outline; doing so will help document sources thoroughly and ethically at all stages (and will make your job easier when you are drafting your report).
  • Change or add extra detail to the outline as the research process continues.

When you have completed sufficient research to develop your ideas, a formal outline can be used to develop a draft of your report. As you write and revise, you will continue filling in details, adding transitions, and providing your own acquired understanding of the subject. It isn’t uncommon to discover gaps in your early draft and have to go back and conduct more research. Keep in mind that this is a working outline and not a contract; as you continue your research, you may decide to organize the final report differently and even delete some information and add new sections.

Developing the rough outline

In the early stages of developing a formal, detailed outline, create a working outline before you begin gathering information. The rough outline shows you which specific topics to gather information on and which ones to ignore. Think of the outline as a series of questions:

Figure 1. Viewing an outline as a series of questions

Keep in mind that this rough outline is in its early stage. The formal outline you will ultimately create and submit will be much more developed, containing specific details and information from your anticipated sections of your report.

Chapter Attribution Information

This chapter was derived from the following sources.

  • Online Technical Writing by David McMurrey – CC: BY 4.0

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An outline is a map of your essay. It shows what information each section or paragraph will contain, and in what order. Most outlines use numbers and/or bullet points to arrange information and convey points.

Why create an outline?

Outlining is a tool we use in the writing process to help organize our ideas, visualize our paper’s potential structure, and to further flesh out and develop points. It allows the writer to understand how he or she will connect information to support the thesis statement and the claims of the paper. An outline provides the writer with a space to consider ideas easily without needing to write complete paragraphs or sentences.

Creating your outline:

Before beginning an outline, it is useful to have a clear thesis statement or clear purpose or argument, as everything else in the outline is going to work to support the thesis. Note: the outline might help inform the thesis, and therefore your thesis might change or develop within the outlining process.

Organize your outline in whatever format fits into the structure needed for the type of paper you are writing. One common outline format uses Roman numerals, letters, and numbers. Other outlines can use bullet points or other symbols. You can use whatever organizational patterns work best for you and your paper, as long as you understand your own organizational tools. Outlines can be written using complete sentences or fragments or a mix of the two.

Remember! After creating your outline, you may decide to reorganize your ideas by putting them in a different order. Furthermore, as you are writing you might make some discoveries and can, of course, always adjust or deviate from the outline as needed.

Sample Outlines:

As you can see in the outline below, the writer chose to separate the outline by topics, but could have utilized a different structure, organizing the outline by separate paragraphs, indicating what each paragraph will do or say.

  • Introduction A. Background information B. Thesis
  • Reason 1 A. Use quotes from x B. Use evidence from y
  • Reason 2 A. Counterargument     1. They might say…     2. But…
  • Conclusion A. Connect back to thesis B. Answer the “so what” or “what now” question C. End on a memorable note

Note: The sample outline above illustrates the structure of an outline, but it is quite vague. Your outline should be as specific as possible.

Proposal Outline:

  • Summary/ Synopsis of proposed project • Rationale • Specific aims and objectives • Experimental approaches to be used • The potential significance
  • Specific Aims • X • Y • Z
  • Background and Significance • Background • Significance to current project • Significance to long-term research objectives • Critical evaluations of existing knowledge • Forward progress
  • Preliminary Data • Description of prelim data to justify the rationale • Demonstrate feasibility of the project
  • Experimental Design and Methods • Details of design and procedures • Protocols • Means of data analysis and interpretation • New methodology and its advantages • Potential technical difficulties or limitations/ alternative approaches
  • References • Citations

Note: Outlines can look quite different. You might use Roman numerals to indicate the main point or function of that section, and then letters to indicate separate sub-points, and then even bullet points or numbers to indicate specific information, like using certain quotes, sources, evidence, or examples.

Adapted From: Los Angeles Valley College Writing Center, “How to Make an Outline” 2/2/15

Northwestern University Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences, “A Basic Proposal Outline”

San Jose State University Writing Center, “Essay Planning: Outlining with a Purpose” Spring 2014


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