Elementary Writing Homework: How to Write an Outline

Your teacher may ask you to write an outline before writing a report or essay because outlines can help you organize your thoughts. Outlines can take different forms, but read on for tips on how to write a basic outline.

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All About Outlines

Types of Outlines

Before writing an outline, check with your teacher to find out what he or she expects. Sometimes teachers require you to include specific parts or follow certain rules.

Sentence Outlines

In a sentence outline, each line includes full sentences. These outlines can be very detailed and take time to put together. They're very useful when you're planning a paper or research project. After you write a complete outline, you can transfer many of your sentences into your paper.

Phrase Outlines

If you write a phrase outline, you only write short phrases on each line. These phrases may sketch out basic ideas; you'll fill in the details later when you write your essay. A phrase outline can be useful if you like to think about general ideas when you're first planning a project.

Parts of a Basic Outline

Begin your outline with a title. This title will explain what your project or paper will be about. All outlines are divided into sections. Each main idea is its own section, and you list the details under each main idea.

Main Ideas

The main ideas of the outline are main portions of your report. Your main ideas may be your topic sentences or your main facts. Use Roman numerals to list each main idea. You should have at least two main ideas in every outline. Here's an example of the main ideas for a report about mammals:

I. Lions

II. Tigers

III. Bears


Underneath each main idea or topic, list the details or facts that you want to discuss in your project. Use a capital letter for each detail and make sure you have at least two for each main idea. Here's an example:

I. Lions

A. Live in Africa

B. Are carnivores

II. Tigers

A. Have stripes

B. Are carnivores

III. Bears

A. Hibernate in winter

B. Are omnivores

Other Details

You may have additional details for each fact. Your next level of detail should use numbers (1, 2, 3), and the level of detail after that should use lowercase letters. Remember, each time you add a new level of detail, you need at least two. Here's an example from the first part of our phrase outline:

I. Lions

A. Live in Africa

  1. Southern Africa
  2. Sub-Saharan eastern Africa

B. Are carnivores

  1. Female lions hunt
  2. Baby lions hunt when they're about a year old
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