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How to Write an Outline of a Research Paper in MLA Style

Written by Sarina Jones
Posted: October 16, 2021
Last update date: May 20, 2024
5 min read

If you want to learn how to write an MLA outline, this article is the right resource to guide you. An MLA outline serves as a plan, the bedrock of your research paper. It is highly recommended; even your professor would recommend you write it!

  • We will explore the essential features that make for a great MLA outline.
  • We will walk you through the process of drafting your paper, outlining the necessary components and steps.
  • You’ll learn how to organize your paragraphs and sections and structure your work.
  • After reading this article, you’ll better understand how your outline can help you compose an outstanding research paper in MLA format.

Let’s now look into the features of MLA style outline and discuss how you can write yours.

Key Components of an MLA Outline

Every MLA outline requires certain components. If you begin with these key components in mind, you will be done in no time. Let’s discuss what should be included in your MLA outline.

Thesis Statement of Research MLA Paper Outline

Before you even start with the MLA paper, you need to write a thesis. It is important for any paper, and it is essential. It goes before the research paper outline and explains the paper, the ideas, and the main elements you will use. It should be 6–7 lines, but you can shorten it. You can proceed to the research paper outline once you have them. It is essential to add that the thesis is not an introduction for an MLA-style outline, essay, or anything similar. Rather, it is a summary that explains the point of your paper.

Headings and Subheadings of Research MLA Paper Outline

Now, you will have to organize the ideas you will use. In simple terms, do not use vague or unimportant pieces of information. You will create headings, and then you will create subheadings. A structured research paper outline will have as many headings/subheadings as you need to explain the topic in detail.

MLA format may be beneficial in this case scenario. An outline in MLA format should present all main ideas. The goal is to stay accurate and detailed but not extreme. Remember to use Times New Roman as it is the standard for an MLA research paper.

Creating an MLA outline for a research paper is essential to writing. An outline helps to ensure that your work remains focused and organized throughout the writing process. If you struggle to create an outline, an online paper writer can help you create a comprehensive, and effective one.

Time and Date

In an MLA research paper outline, you typically do not include specific dates or times as part of the outline structure. The primary purpose of an outline in MLA format is to organize the content of your paper into a hierarchical structure with headings and subheadings

You may include dates or times within the body of your research paper when discussing events, studies, or historical context relevant to your topic. However, these should be incorporated within the paragraphs and not as part of the outline itself.

Here’s an example of how you might incorporate a date within the body of your paper:

  1. Background and Historical Context
  2. Early Developments in the Field (Late 19th Century)

Alphanumeric Format

An alphanumeric system is required for MLA format. It involves alternating between alphabets and numerals, depending on the sections. You may have to use Roman or Arabic numerals and upper or lower case letters.

Step-by-Step Guide to Writing an MLA Research Paper Outline

If you are still lost on how to write an outline in MLA format, there is no need to worry. We have provided MLA guidelines and rules for writing a research paper. The steps below will provide a guide to structuring your paper.

Choose a Topic and Define Your Thesis Statement

Consider the assignment requirements and pick a topic that interests you. Ensure the scope is neither too broad nor narrow; you can ask your professor for guidance.

Once your topic has been finalized, the next step to beginning your MLA format outline for speech is to define your thesis statement. You do not have to get it right the first time. Instead, see it as a preliminary to help you structure your assignment. You can adjust it to suit your preferences while drafting your MLA outline format.

Determine Main Headings Based on Key Points of Your Research

Your main headings should reflect the main scope of your MLA format research paper. You can outline these headings by looking at the key points of your paper. Other sublevel headings can signal the scope of the main headings.

Use Roman numerals (I, II, III) for Main Headings

Differentiate the main headings in your paper from other headings using Roman numerals in front.

Identify Sub-Points for Each Main Heading

The sub-points of the main headings in an MLA outline sample are necessary for determining other headings. An example of this importance is the sublevel headings these points will represent.

Use Capital Letters (A, B, C) For Subheadings

The MLA outline for your research paper requires subheadings. You should always present these sublevel headings in capitals to emphasize them in the assignment.

Provide Additional Details or Supporting Points for Sub-Points

Your research outline should include additional details with MLA formatting. These details should serve as supporting sentences for the sub-points you identified for each heading.

Use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) for detailed points

Structure the detailed points with Arabic numerals to differentiate them from other information in the outline.

Use Consistent Punctuation and Parallel Structure for All Points

When using the MLA style outline for your research paper, ensure all points in the outline are properly punctuated and formatted with the right structure.

The Templates of MLA Research Paper Outline

Since you now have an appreciable knowledge of how to structure a research paper, here are a few MLA format outline examples.

Alphanumeric outline example


Decimal outline example


Checklist of a Good MLA Outline for a Research Paper

The MLA format outline of every good research paper should follow a certain structure. An example of the ideal research paper layout contains all the necessary details. Drafting with a checklist would help ensure its structure follows the standard procedure. The best way to avoid skipping any of these details is a checklist. You can cross all the items and headings off your list once you have added them to the MLA format outline for your research paper. Use the checklist below to vet your work.

  • The topic meets the assignment requirements.
  • The entire text in the MLA outline follows the right format.
  • The correct alphanumeric structure is used for the outline (e.g., I, II, III for main headings; A, B, C for subheadings; 1, 2, 3 for details).
  • Parallel structure is used for all points (e.g., if using verbs, they are in the same tense and form).
  • Double-spaced with a legible font (usually Times New Roman), 12-point size.
  • The MLA research paper outlines One-inch margins on all sides.
  • Header with page numbers in the upper-right corner.
  • Points are organized logically, progressing from general to specific.
  • Main headings correspond to main ideas/sections.
  • The writer’s name, instructor’s name, course, and date are listed on separate lines (double-spaced) below the title.

Prepare For Easy Writing

It is necessary to draft a research paper outline before you begin writing in MLA format. This simple task would provide a foundation and guide you as you tackle your assignment. The basic sections of your outline are the introduction, body, and conclusion, so work your way around these, and you’ll be done in no time. Remember to select the appropriate MLA edition for your paper and read its manual before starting the outline. You should check out our MLA paper outline template for an idea of what is expected of you.


What is an MLA outline?

An outline in MLA format is precise as you think. It is a plan you will use to write the assignment. It consists of the headings, subheadings, and ideas you will have to use. Basically, this is a path you will take while writing, and it will reflect how your complete task will look at the end.

According to the modern language association, this is mandatory, and something all of you need to complete first. It eliminates mistakes and makes the whole task easier. Now you have a plan. You may want to follow these steps here and get the job done in less time and expect a better grade.

How to write an outline for a research paper MLA?

You will have to start by explaining the main idea of your essay. Then you will start with defining the headings. Add all the subheadings now and try to focus each one on an important part of the writing. Each one should explain the idea. This is the guide on what you will write later on. The idea must be relevant, accurate, and simple if possible. Do not use ideas that are inaccurate, have flaws, or are completely irrelevant to the essay. These can make a reader get bored and not interested.

When does the page numbering of the MLA research title page begin?

It should start with the first page. It always uses Arabic numbers, and all pages should be numbered. The numbers will have to be present in the upper right corner of the page, and there are no exceptions. The only expectation is that some professors will ask you not to number the first page. If that is mandatory, you will start from the second page using number 2 and move on. Numbers must be 0.5 inches from the top, and they must be flush with the proper margin.

How to set the outline of a research paper in MLA Style in Google Docs?

Formatting your research in this case scenario is simple. You will have to start a new document and click on the file/new/template. From there, you will have to search for the MLA template and open it when you find it. Then start with the main idea at the top. You will now have to write the headings followed by or containing the subheadings.

As you can see, the whole process is super easy and far easier than when using other platforms. There is no need to adjust all the settings and optimize the content manually. Keep in mind that you should use font sizes 12, 11.5, or 11.

How to set the outline of a research paper in MLA style in Word?

To start with your research paper outline in Word, start a new document. Click on no spacing and choose font and size. Write the main idea. Click on multi-level numbering and define multiple-level numbering then. Change the values. They should be A., I., 1. and so on (enter formatting for number). Choose the number style for this number in I, II, III for the first level, A, B, C for the third level, and 1, 2, 3 for the third level. Now you can start writing.

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