How to Write an Essay Outline: MLA and APA Styles

Outlining is a method of organization that authors of all writing styles use. Before beginning the writing process, a similar organizational method enables writers to list all of their research and ideas in one section. Recognizing the general college essay outline can help you structure your thoughts and receive positive feedback from your instructor. Learn how to write an outline by going through this guide.


Table of Contents

Definition of an Outline

How Do You Develop an Outline?



  • MLA
  • APA



Definition of an Outline

When it comes to writing academic papers, scholarly articles, informative guides, novels, and encyclopedias, an essay outline is one of the most important planning methods. The following headings appear in the everyday paper outline: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. To aid the writing process, each source is organized by relevance. When it comes to outlining, there are several formats to choose from, but the two most common for a college essay outline are MLA and APA.

The organizational process is the same whether you’re writing an MLA or APA outline, with a few minor differences. The main distinction is that APA employs abstracts because it requires one or two sentences per line. APA is more commonly used in the humanities, whereas MLA is more commonly used in social studies. Aside from that, the basic outline for any type of academic paper structure stays the same.

How Do You Develop an Outline?

The most common length for a college essay is five paragraphs. Thereby, an easy way to remember the basic format of a writing plan is to imagine it as a 5 paragraph essay outline in which students write an Introduction, Thesis, Body, and Conclusion. After which, within the basic structure, fit a total of 5 paragraphs. The same technique can be used for planning, but instead of paragraphs, use notes. The very same method applies to an argumentative essay outline and any other type of paper structure all through and after college.

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The Essential-Elements to Outlining

  • Research & Notes: Before beginning the writing process, it is critical to locate reliable sources and make a list of them. To locate relevant references for an academic paper, browse for credible websites as well as academic search engines such as Google Scholar or Oxford Academic.
  • Prioritize Your Thesis: Because the thesis statement is a summary of the essay, begin working on it first before moving on to the other chapters of the outline. The thesis can help you with the planning and writing processes.
  • Write Your Ideas: Assuming you’ve already written out the core headings of an outline, list all of the important aspects from your research sources in the Thesis and Body chapters.
  • Where to Include References: Every reference for cause and effect, AP English examinations, SAT essays, admission essays, as well as other formal writing styles will be included in the body section. Except in the case of a reflection paper or an analytical paper, where a citation can be included in the introductory paragraph.
  • Introduction: The introduction is the first line of a paper in most academic styles. As a result, it is critical to plan something creative within the outline. As previously stated, certain writing styles, such as a reflection essay or an analytical paper, permit the use of citation as an opening.
  • The Conclusion: The entire essay should be described in the final paragraph, with the thesis restated in the first sentence and suggestions, predictions, and/or opinions added in the following sentences. The final sentence should summarize the purpose of the paper.

Overall Outline Format

Title Page

  • Essay Title:
  • Student Name:
  • Professor’s Name:
  • Class (Optional)


  • Opening Paragraph.


  • Brief Description of the Entire Paper.
  • Link Sentence to the First Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Second Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Third Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion.


  • Summary of the Entire Paper.
  • A Conclusive Sentence.


  • Footnotes or Bibliography

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Samples of Outline

We understand that distinguishing between an MLA and an APA outline can be difficult. Both methods are determined by the referencing styles. APA outlining employs abstracts, whereas MLA employs sentence citations. A title page is not required in an MLA outline. Include it on the outline because the APA referencing style needs it. For a better understanding, consider the outline example below.

MLA Outline Sample

  1. Introduction:
  • Opening Sentence: Stonehenge is a vast repository of ancient history.
  • Connect Sentence to Thesis: It is one of the oldest structures in the United Kingdom, standing 13 feet tall.
  1. Thesis:
  • Paper Description: This paper describes how Stonehenge was built and its purpose.
  • The first argument/claim is that Stonehenge was built in 3001 BC.
  • Second Argument/Claim: Stonehenge is well-known as a site of religious worship.
  • Third Argument/Claim: Other Stonehenge-like structures can be found throughout

III. Body Paragraph 1:

  • Reference: According to studies, the circulation ditch surrounding Stonehenge was built around the year 3000BC.
  • Explanation/Claim: Pagans gathered near the end of the Stone Age and constructed the first segment of what is now known as Stonehenge.
  • Link Sentence: This brings up the issue of belief.
  1. Body Paragraph 2:
  • Reference: Most people believed that the stones were placed by ancient Britons for the ultimate reason of religious practice during the late Tudor era.
  • Explanation/Claim: From the late second millennium AD to the present day, the practice of Paganism is the most commonly accepted explanation for why Stonehenge was built.
  • Link Sentence: More information about the mysterious structure is becoming available.
  1. Body Paragraph 3:
  • Reference: Stonehenge-like stones first appeared around 1100 BC.
  • Explanation/Claim: The structure is thought to have been constructed by migrants.
  • Link Sentence:
  1. Conclusion:
  • Summary of the Paper: Generally, the ancient stones have piqued the interest of scientists and assumptions throughout human history.
  • Conclusive Sentence: Nobody knows for certain how they were constructed.

VII. References:

  • “History of Stonehenge”
  • “Why Was Stonehenge Built?”
  • “Stonehenge Is Not Alone: 7 Ancient Megaliths You’ve Never Seen.”

Sample of APA Outline

APA Title Page

  • Title: The Risks of Using Cell Phones
  • Student Name: Jake Harper
  • Professor’s Name: Dr Smith Muller
  • Class (Optional): Class of 2020


  • Introductory Sentence: Mobile phones have had a negative impact on our daily lives in the worst imaginable way.
  • Link Sentence to the Thesis: The widespread use of mobile technology has gotten out of hand.


  • Description: The paper discusses the common dangers and negative effects of cell phone use on humans. The ordeal can be life-threatening or simply demoralizing.
  • First argument: Excessive cell phone use is harmful to one’s health.
  • Second Argument: The use of cell phones has a negative impact on human interaction.
  • Third Argument: Texting and driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving.

Body Paragraph 1: Cell-Phone-Related Health Dangers

  • Evidence/Reference: “Radiofrequency (RF) radiation is used by mobile phones to communicate with base stations.” When the intensity of RF radiation is high enough, it has a ‘thermal’ effect, which implies it raises body temperature. There is concern that the low levels of RF radiation emitted by mobile phones may cause health issues such as headaches or brain tumors.” (“Your Health and Mobile Phones”)
  • Explanation/Claim: After prolonged use, phone radiation contains carcinogenic elements. In other words, long-term cell phone use can put a person at risk of terminal illness, if not death. Because cell phones have only been around for a short time, there is still a lack of evidence to back up this claim.
  • Link Sentence: This brings us to the topic of how cell phones are destroying social interaction.

Body Paragraph 2: How Cell Phones Are Ruining Human Interaction

  • Evidence/Reference: “Sherry Turkle contends that using cell phones in social environments degrades the quality of human interaction.” According to Turkle, it makes people less open and honest when interacting. It also makes people less empathetic, according to her. She uses a school of children as an example, claiming that “the children do not appear to be able to understand or show empathy toward one another.” (“Mobile Phones and Human Interaction.”)
  • Explanation/Claim: Humans are no longer communicating because of their reliance on mobile phones. Due to their addiction to cell phones, families go out to restaurants, cafes, and parks without interacting with one another. Humans have also shown far less empathy than they did 15 years ago, owing to the lack of interaction that could have occurred during this time period. This is most visible in schoolchildren who were born into this way of life.
  • Link Sentence: Furthermore, using a cell phone while driving poses a risk of death.

Body Paragraph 3: Driving While Using a Cell Phone

  • Evidence/Reference: “According to the Transport Research Laboratory, motorists who use their mobile phone to send text messages have 91 percent poorer steering control than drivers who devote their full attention to the road.” (“Driving while texting is more dangerous than drinking and driving.”)
  • Explanation/Claim: Using a mobile device while driving a motor vehicle has a greater impact than drinking and driving. More people have died as a result of texting and driving than from drunk driving.
  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion: Humans have become completely addicted to mobile phones, to the point of risky driving, health risks, and a lack of interaction.


  • Summary of the Entire Paper: Restate your thesis.
  • Conclusive Sentence: The continued overuse of mobile phones is posing a major threat to humanity in every way.


  • “Mobile Phones and Your Health”
  • “Cell Phones and Human Interaction.”
  • “Texting While Driving Is More Dangerous Than Drink-Driving,”

How to Create an Essay Outline with help of a Video Guide


Irrespective of writing style, the main essay format can assist any author in a variety of ways. Having all of the ideas and references on a writing plan can greatly benefit those writing their daily college paper or dissertation by understanding the basic plan of an essay. A persuasive essay outline, for example, is not distinguishable from a research paper outline. As a result, understanding the general outline format can make producing academic papers much easier by simplifying the entire writing process.