Unless they are required to turn in an outline with their term papers, many students just skip this step and move right from organizing their notes to writing. This usually does not work out well. The result is a piece of writing that lacks coherence (logical flow from one idea to the next), bad sequencing, and just anoverall disorganized presentation. Before you decide to skip this step, think about the following purposes and types of outlines and what they can do to get you a better grade. You will see that having an outline for term paper writing is a smart move.

1. It will help you to clarify anddevelop your ideas before you even begin

You may actually begin the outline process with brainstorming. Even before you begin your research, you might do some mind-mapping to consider what topics within your larger topic would be good to research. Mind-mapping is actually a form of outlining, although a very informal one. You can find some free mind-mapping tools online that are great for this process. Once you have finished your research and taken your notes, you can then return to your mind map and fill in any blanks. Your mind map can then become the basis for a more formal term paper outline if you need to haveone for submission. The point is you have clarified and developed your thoughts by using an organizational tool. There are other organizational tools as well, depending upon the purpose of your term paper. For example, if you are planning to compare and contrast, a Vienn diagram is a great pre-outline tool, as you brainstorm all of the factors that you will want to research. A cause and effect purpose may lend itself to a flow chart of sorts. You do not have to think of outlines as the formal structures that you learned in middle school.Think of them as organizers that come in many forms and that can be used at various points in your term paper production process.

2. Outlines can help you see the “holes”in your arguments or points

When you prepare an outline for term paper writing following your research, even if it is quite informal, you are going to divide your information into large sub-topic areas. Beneath each of those large sub-topic headings, you will be listing the detail that will be included in that section. You may find that you have 3-4 sections that are very strong on detail that support your point. And then there is that one sub-topic lacking in enough detail. You will know that you have to go back and research that topic somemore to get enough support. The additional thing you may find as you fill in that detail is that some of your points are in the wrong places and need to be moved. This is an important find, because it will improve the logical flow of your final paper.

3. They help you stay on-point

Particularly when you are writing something as long as a term paper, it is pretty easy toget off-track and start rambling on, losing focus of what is supposed to actually be included in a paragraph or section. When this happens, you are adding irrelevant content or leaving out really important stuff. Your argument loses all of its power when this happens. If you have even a very informal outline that lists the details you should cover, you can go point-by-point through those details and keep yourself focused. And having that detail in front of you in the order it is to be covered, will let you look for something that you can use for a punchy beginning of the paper.


4. You will save yourself time

If you have an outline in front of you as you write, the actual writing will be so much easier. All you will be doing at that point is expanding on each detail,turning the information into complete and well-structured sentences, and then connecting those details together so that the writing flows. And, if your outline includes the sources for those details, you can get them entered as you write, so that you do not have to spend time going back through your notes trying to locate them. The other time-saver is that your job of editing and revising the rough draft will be faster too. You will not have to weed out all of the irrelevant content that you might have in there because you had no outline.

5. You will use the skill of outlining later in life

If you think that outlines are merely for school, you are dead wrong. When you get into the real world of work, there will be times when you have to prepare a written report, a lengthy memo, perhaps a white paper, a speech/presentation, or a manual. Being able to craft an outline before you begin to write will allow you to produce a coherent piece of content.


So, here are 5 important reasons why you really need to have some type of an outline, possibly more than one, which you can use before your research, during your initial writing, and even after writing your rough draft. Understand, though, that there is no one way to create an outline. You need to figure out which types work best for you. Then, if you do have to submit a formal outline with your term paper, you will have the information you need to produce one. Thereis even something called a reverse outline, and that will be covered shortly.

Types of Outlines

If you Google types of outlines, you will have an option topull up images for outlines. There, you will find at least a hundred different possibilities. For purposes of this article, however, we’ll address the most common. But understand that you should choose a term paper outline sample that works for you. You can always turn yours into a formal one later on.


Formal Outlines


This is probably the type of outline you first learned to produce when you started writing essays in middle school. As you can see, you have to use Roman numerals, for the major sections of your term paper (sub-topics), followed by indented Capital letters, Arabic numbers, small alphabet letters, and then back to lower case Roman numerals if you have to get that detailed. To give you a “real world” example, let’ssuppose you are going to write a term paper comparing capitalism and socialism. This is what an outline might look like.


Informal Outlines

This is the type of outline you will create before and during the writing of your term paper. The term paper format is entirely up to you, and there are a huge number of possibilities. You can use bulleted points, columns, diagrams, and you do not need any formal parallel structure. Here are a few examples of the informal outline.



If you are a visual person, this type of outline is great. You will need one for each of your main points, obviously, but writing from this type of outline is so easy.



This is a good format if you intend to look at the benefits and drawbacks of something. Note that the details are listed after the pros and the cons. Very simple and direct, and will keep you focused on the information you need to include.


This Venn diagram is the perfect method for comparing and contrasting things. Here you have the three qualities necessary for a political candidate. Where they all intersect, the perfect candidate is found. You have three main points, and under each of those you can add the detail from your research. Your conclusion will speak to the importance of all three of them.


Sentence Outline

The sentence outline is formatted just like the formal outline, except you must use full sentences rather than phrases. Some professors will require sentence outlines like this.



Reverse Outline

This is an outline that an instructor will not require, but it could easily be turned into a formal outline for submission. The reverse outline is written after your term paper is finished and is used as a check for good organization. You create this outline by beginning at the beginning of your rough draft and creating an outline as you read through the paper. You will be able to check your organization this way, so it is a great way to review and edit for that final draft.

Outlines are not just silly requirements of your instructor. They are absolutely critical if you are going to create a complex piece of writing like a term paper. Once you find the type that fits your style, you will see the benefit of using an outline for all of the writing you do.