How Should an Outline for a Term Paper Be Formatted?

Term papers are not something that you can just start writing at one end and hope you can take yourself to the end; they have to be carefully taken care of and groomed. Writing them without a plan will cause you to wander off, and it takes away from the structure and focus on your essay. This is most certainly not good. The only way to write a term paper well, especially for a long-term assignment worth so much of a grade, is to take your time and outline it, so you can keep track of your facts and information. This creates another problem, which is trying to decide what kind of outline formatting should be used.

The answer is simple, whatever the teacher asks of you. Often, however teachers do not care and an outline is a tool to help you write your essay. It is only the final product that matters, in most cases, so you should be able to choose any outline format you want. This is a stylistic choice, and no one can really tell you how your brain is going to work. After all, it is you that has been thinking about it all your life! Throughout your academic life, you should be experimenting with outlines to see which format works for you. That being said, there are a couple standard formats that can help you gather your thoughts.

The most common kind of outline works with indentation. This should be familiar with you if you have ever worked with a computer programming language, with nested information being indented more and more to the right on the page. Therefore, your first outline should have Roman Numerals, for example. These correspond to your topics. Under that are letters suggesting paragraphs with their topic sentences, and the facts in those paragraphs can be indented from there, and so on and so forth.

However, we live in a very technological world here. So consider the following. You can use software to outline your paper. There are some software that are designed specifically for this purpose, but you can also use mind-mapping software. This lets you map out ideas on a second plane, so you can organize your ideas however you want and connect them with arrows of different lengths and styles. This can be helpful if your essay is not going to be strictly hierarchical. Such formatting is a bit chaotic, but can really pay off if you are a more creative kind of person.