Apa outline Format

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APA Outline Format

The guidelines from the American Psychological Association or APA are used for writing papers and doing assignments in the social sciences. They have guidelines for research papers, from the initial title page to the final works cited page. The APA even provides format examples for outlines to be prepared before the paper is written.

Understanding the APA Outline Format

  • Topic Point– The College Application Process (Basic APA format)

  • Full Sentence Outline Format

  • Decimal Outline Format

Tips on Creating an Outline

  • Use parallelism - Parallelism refers to the structure between headings and sub-headings. The structure needs to remain consistent throughout all the headings and sub-headings. For example, this means if you start each heading with a verb, then all your headings and subheadings should start with a verb.

Example: "Choose Desired Colleges" and "Prepare Application" "Choose" and "Prepare" are both verbs. However, it is preferable in an outline to use the present tense of the verb.

Example: "Visit and evaluate college campuses" and "Visit and evaluate college websites"

Example: "1. Note important statistics" and "2. Look for interesting classes"

  • Use coordination - Coordination is important between headings. In other words, all the headings should have the same amount of significance or importance. The rule applies to sub-headings as well, but their information will be less significant than the headings.


I. Choose Desired Colleges

   A. Visit and evaluate college campuses

   B. Visit and evaluate college websites

      1. look for interesting classes

      2. note important statistics

(College campuses and college websites are equally important.)  

  • Use subordination - Subordination is the relationship between the headings and the sub-headings.  Information in headings is general in nature, and the information contained in the sub-headings should be more specific, and so on to the other levels.


A. Describe an influential person in your life

     1. Favorite high school teacher

     2. Grandparent

(The category of influential people in your life is general, and a favorite teacher and grandparent are specific.)  

  • Use division - Division should be accomplished in this manner. Each heading needs to have at least two parts. It can have more, but if you have too many, then you may need to put in another heading or sub-heading or combine some of the divisions. 


A. Compile resume

     1. List relevant coursework

     2. List work experience

     3. List volunteer experience
(The heading "Compile resume" is divided into 3 parts.)

How To Create an Outline

1st Outline Method: Begin the outlining process by creating a thesis statement. This concise statement will be your guide during the entire research paper writing process. Create the topic sentences or main points for your paper’s paragraphs from the thesis statement. Under each of the topic sentences or main points create a listing of supporting ideas, examples, and details.

2nd Outline Method: Begin by writing all of your ideas down relating to your research topic. Categorize those ideas in groups by similarity of meaning. Try to make an even distribution of facts between those main ideas. Once completed, a thesis statement can be written pinpointing those main ideas into a statement.

When you look at the basic APA outline format example in this article, you will see that Roman numerals are used for the main headings in your outline, and capital letters are used for the sub-headings. Inside the sub-headings you use Arab numerals and lower case letters, in that order followed by Arab numerals in parenthesis.

The full sentence outline is set up the same way, but with full sentences on each level of the outline.

A less common form is the decimal outline, and your professor will tell you which kind of outline to use.

The best way to gain an understanding of the APA outline format is to look at examples.

Following are three APA outline format examples. To save space in the examples, only the first section of the outline will show the proper spacing.

Topic Point Outline format


I. Choose Desired Colleges

     A. Visit and evaluate college campuses

     B. Visit and evaluate college websites

          1. Look for interesting classes

          2. Note important statistics

               a. Student/faculty ratio

               b. Retention rate

II. Prepare Application

     A. Write Personal Statement

          1. Choose interesting topic

               a. Describe an influential person in your life

                    (1) Favorite high school teacher

                    (2) Grandparent

          2. Include important personal details

               a. Volunteer work

               b. Participation in varsity sports

     B. Revise personal statement

III. Compile resume

     A. List relevant coursework

     B. List work experience

     C. List volunteer experience

          1. Tutor at foreign language summer camp

          2. Counselor for suicide prevention hotline


Full Sentence Outline Format



I. Man-made pollution is the primary cause of global warming.

     A. Greenhouse gas emissions are widely identified by the scientific community to be


  1. The burning of coal and fossil fuels are the primary releasers hazardous

greenhouse gases.  

(Full sentence outlines are often accompanied with an APA reference list on a separate page. Quotes within the outline must also utilize APA in-text citations.)  

Decimal Outline Format



1.0 Choose Desired College

     1.1 Visit and evaluate college campuses

     1.2 Visit and evaluate college websites

          1.2.1 Look for interesting classes

          1.2.2 Note important statistics


A well-written outline is a valuable tool in presenting a well-written research paper. The outline is the first step in creating the structure for what will be said in the paper as well as how it will be said.

An outline is usually required when writing a paper for a college course. Be sure and ask your professor for the required format for your particular course.

An outline is an all-purpose plan of what you are going to write. The writing of the paper and the paper itself will be more organized if you create a plan. If the plan is followed, your body paragraphs will stay focused on your thesis statement ideas.

If your teacher has given you a specific outline format, you should follow his or her instructions. Otherwise, use one of the methods and forms presented here. They are the most common ways to outline any type of paper. Either way, you end up with a step-by-step planning guide for your research paper.

There are two suitable methods to creating an outline – the first relies on the idea that your thesis statement is already written. The second suggests for you to write down all of the ideas relating to your topic first, organizing those ideas, and then creating a thesis statement.

The two major forms of outlines are the topic outline and the sentence outline. All of the headings and sub-headings within a sentence outline are complete sentences. The topic outline headings and sub-headings are specified by a signal short phrase or word.

Example: Outlines are normally labeled in the following order.

I. First Main Point

II. Second Main Point (not less important, that the heading above, but equally relevant to support the overall paper)

A. Supporting point (Any supporting point may be broken as in supporting point B)

B. Another supporting Point

1. Category
2. Category
a. specific
b. another specific
(1) detail of specific
(2) another detail of specific

C Another Supporting Point (Any supporting point may be broken as in supporting point B)

III. Third Main Point


Check your word processing program to see if there is a built-in outline function. Most programs have outline functions along with a help section referring to outline creation.

* Keep in mind that a heading or subheading cannot be divided into one section; if there is an “A” there must be a “B,” and if there is a “1″ there must be a “2.”

Examples of Full Sentence Outline
Thesis:   In today’s society, everyone takes some type of medicine for some reason.   Because of this, the number of people addicted to drugs are on the rise.   Drugs are so main stream that most think they are immune to becoming addicts.   When they do realize that there may be a problem, most of the time it is too late.


I. Drugs are more harmful to your health than you might think
A. Studies have shown that drugs can cause damage to major organs.
1. Your brain functions can be stalled by continued marijuana use.
2. Meth is also a drug that can cause damage is the brain.   It can affect your

short and long term memory.

B. Drugs can continue to have a negative affect on your body ever after you

discontinue use.

1. Studies show that after prolonged meth use, your brain does not function


2. The brain damage is irreversible.

II. Even after initial exposure to drugs, some become immediately addicted.

A. Many meth users report that the high you get from meth last a lot longer than

the high you get from other mainstream drugs.

          1. These users also report that you can be high for up to three days.
          2. The highs last so long that users report that they still fill high even after they

stop using meth.

B. Addiction is a real disorder and it overtakes every area of your life.

1. Drugs became the main fixation for an addict.
          2. Jobs no longer matter, families are nonexistent and some even turn to a life

of crime just to get the drugs.

III. As time goes on, many addicts need more and more drugs to carry out day-to-day activities.

A. Over time the body needs regular doses of drugs to function.

1. The more drugs are used, the worse the body suffers.
B. Your body deteriorates as you give in to the drug cravings.
1. This is why the damage suffered to the body is irreversible because you

only focus on your next hit.

2. Your body suffers extreme physical damage.


APA Outline Format Examples. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2012, from http://examples.yourdictionary.com/apa-outline-format-examples.html

APA Style Sister » Blog Archive » How To Create an Outline. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2012, from http://apa-format.com/blog/2012/04/30/how-to-create-an-outline/

Full Sentence Outline - Term Paper - Blackdoll38614. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2012, from http://www.studymode.com/essays/Full-Sentence-Outline-1020788.html

mcleanbuseng-fig07_x005.jpg (JPEG Image, 2608 × 3256 pixels) - Scaled (12%). (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2012, from http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/mcleanbuseng/mcleanbuseng-fig07_x005.jpg

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