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Sorting the Things Out: How to Write an APA Paper Outline

Outlining is a subject that is rarely taught in middle school and high school today, which is why so many students have difficulty writing outlines for their collegiate papers. When professors assign papers in MLA or APA styles and require an outline, students are often stumped and have no idea where to being. The easiest thing to remember about styles like MLA and APA is that they provide a format for essay and research paper writing. Those styles carry over into the outline, too.

When you write an APA outline, you need to be sure that your paper is formatted properly. These are the formatting requirements:

  • Each page needs to have one-inch margins at the top and bottom, and the left and right sides.
  • The paragraphs need to be double spaced and your outline should also be double spaced. No single-spaced paragraphs are used in any APA formatting.
  • The only font should be Times New Roman in Size 12.
  • The first page of the outline should include your name, your professor’s name, the paper’s title/the course title, and the date of the paper. Each of those details needs its own line, with the exception of the paper title and course title which should be separated with a forward slash.

Formatting the Actual Outline

Writing the actual outline does require knowledge of formal outlining. The traditional numerical outline with Roman numbers and Arabic numbers is the outline style that is preferred by most instructors. This style requires that the main headings of each paragraph be set apart with capitalized Roman numerals. The next heading, which is the first subheading, should be indented one tab and given a capital letter. Details that support the subheading should have an Arabic number and indented another tab.

Important Details to Remember When Outlining

These outlines should be double-spaced and they should follow the rule of two: if you have one heading, you should have a second; if you have one subheading, you should have a second; if you have one detail, you should have second. It is also a good idea to write each entry in a parallel style, too. This means that if you start one entry with an infinitive, you should start all entries with an infinitive. Continuity is important in outlining, which is one of the reasons that so many students have struggles with them.

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