APA Outline Format: Brief Overview

It is impossible to imagine a flawless writing process without mastering the art of developing a powerful research paper outline. This type of college academic assignment requires much more sections than an ordinary high school essay, so follow our guide to avoid getting lost in the writing process.

Let’s begin with defining a research paper outline: it is a structure that provides you with all the necessary information about your topic and helps you develop an idea of what the final version will look like. As you may have already figured out, some parts of this tool work as guidelines for formatting, and others are just for organizational purposes (the main idea behind using outlines).

You can imagine that your outline is like an architect’s blueprint for a building: it represents the structure of your paper and provides all the instructions needed for completing it. A good outline should contain enough detail so that you can write each section without having to refer back to it but not so much detail (or too many sub-sections) that it becomes difficult or tedious. Ideally, you want to create a simple and flexible outline to accommodate any changes necessary during the actual writing.

There are different types of academic writing styles or formats when writing an academic paper: APA format, MLA format, Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), Turabian, Harvard referencing system, Oxford referencing system, and SOGS. In this article, we’ll talk about the APA format research outline.

APA Paper Outline: Everything You Need to Know

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is a formatting style used by many academics and researchers. It’s often referred to as the APA format or simply APA.

The American Psychological Association (APA) format is a writing style used in psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. It requires a cover page, abstract, introduction, methods section, results section, discussion section, and conclusion. You do not need a thesis for your APA outline because neither the APA style guide nor the outline’s formatting instructions call for one. 

Despite this, your instructor might have certain demands, one of which can be a thesis. Since a thesis is often needed for an outline, check with your instructor for any additional prerequisites. This is because the evidence in your paper will be used to support the argument you make in support of your thesis statement. 

Without a thesis statement, an outline lacks a clear context for the points you are making. A thesis statement, evidence to support your thesis, and a breakdown of the work into individual paragraphs should all be included in your APA outline.

Now, let’s discuss the rules APA has set for how to format research papers using elements such as margins, fonts, and spacing between lines. The purpose of using APA formatting is to make it easier for readers to read and understand your writing without having to readjust their eyesight while reading your paper.

You should adhere to specific rules for using headings and subheadings while you build your outline in addition to the general rules for writing in APA format. 

Roman numerals for the primary headings (I, II, III, IV). Subheadings: capitalize the first word (A, B, C, D). Start with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), then lowercase letters (a, b, and c), then Arabic numerals inside parentheses [(1), (2), (3)] if you require extra subheadings within original capitalized letter subheadings (3).

APA Format Outline Examples

Although less common, the APA decimal format is by no means unheard of. It is the easiest of the group. Simply divide your headings into paragraphs and assign Arabic numbers to each one. The heading is denoted by the first number, the paragraph by the second, and the point is by the third. The simplest example is as follows:

  • The 1.0 heading is the first heading. 
  • 1.1 is the opening sentence of the first heading. 
  • Your first paragraph’s opening phrase or point is 1.1.1. 
  • 1.1.2 is the second sentence. 
  • Your second paragraph’s second sentence is 1.2.2. 
  • You advance to 2.0 when you go on to the second heading. 
  • Your second heading, 2.1.1, is the first sentence in the first paragraph.

Start your text on a new line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin. As a rule, a title page is not required for a research paper. If your teacher requires a title page instead of or in addition to the header, format it according to your instructions.

Distinguishing Trait of APA Format Research Paper Outline 

Every research paper must include a reference page(s). The reference list should be placed at the end, beginning on a new page. The header for this page should be centered at the top of the page with the title REFERENCES in all capital letters. List every source used in your paper alphabetically by the first major word in each source. 

Double-space all entries with no skipped spaces between entries. Include book titles with initial capital letters and periodicals with quotation marks (e.g., “The New York Times”). If a publication has multiple authors whose names are not listed alphabetically, organize them according to their last names or else arrange them chronologically if that is an option for you to choose from (e.g., “Smith, Jones & Johnson” or “Jones et al., 1990″).

Research Paper APA Format Outline: Afterthoughts

It may feel that the APA outline for a paper will require as much effort as the paper itself after outlining all these particular criteria. Not so. You create a framework for your essay by using this format. All you have to do from there is expand. It greatly simplifies the writing process and results in better writing.


How do you write an outline for an APA format?

Decide on your thesis statement or topic. Determine the topics you want to cover in your paper. Put your points in a sequential, logical manner such that they all lead back to your core argument. Create possible transitions among paragraphs.

Does an APA outline need a title page?

All APA Style papers must have a title page. The title page is available in both student and professional versions. Unless instructed otherwise by their lecturer or institution, students should utilize the student version of the title page.

Is APA outline double-spaced?

Your outline must be double-spaced, 12-point, just like the rest of your APA-formatted document. The paper’s title has to be centered. The thesis is stated in the line that follows (write the thesis in capital letters, followed by a colon, and then set forth your thesis).

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