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How to Compose an Outline for a Research Paper in the MLA Format

The MLA style requires an outline as part of your research paper. The outline should be written in complete sentences and include the following parts:

  • Thesis. Put your thesis statement in the first point of your outline.
  • Main arguments (no less than three). Think of the arguments you are going to use to prove your opinion. For example, if your thesis is “Unless GMO foods are proven to have a negative impact on people’s health, they should not be banned,” your first argument may sound like “There was no connection discovered between eating GMO foods and increased risks of certain diseases.”
  • Supporting ideas (no less than two for each argument). Demonstrate the validity of your arguments with the ideas you form in the process of your research. For example, “Rats that were fed with GMO foods had the same cancer rates as those fed with conventional foods.”
  • Pieces of evidence (optional). If your research paper is a large one, it makes sense to list the most important quotes from academic sources that support your ideas. These pieces of textual evidence should be either cited or paraphrased according to the MLA guidelines.

Your main arguments are the first level of your outline, supporting ideas are the second level, and pieces of evidence are the third level. In the MLA style, you are allowed to include up to six levels.

Number your outline points at each level. Use Roman numerals (I, II) for the first level, capital letters (A, B) for the second, Arabic numbers (1, 3) for the third, lower-case letters (a, b) for the fourth, Arabic numbers in brackets for the fifth, and lower-case letters in brackets for the sixth.

Remember that each level should include no less than two points. If you have A, you should have B, and so on.

Formatting Tips

  • Use the same font type, size, and spacing throughout your paper.
  • Number your outline pages (even if there is just a single one) with small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii) in the upper right corner. Before the page number, include your last name.
  • Type the centered heading as “Outline.”
  • Introduce your thesis statement with the capitalized word “THESIS.” It is the first point of your first level, followed by Roman numerals: I, II, III.
  • The second and following lines of each outline point should be indented on the left in order to not overlap with the point number. See MLA outline templates to get a clearer idea.
  • Increase the left indent for each new outline level.

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