How to Outline a Paper in APA Format


Students enrolled in social science courses are often required to write research papers that are written in APA format. APA format, developed by the American Psychological Association, is a standardized series of guidelines that state how academic and professional papers are structured. These guidelines cover everything from the acceptable width of a paper’s margins to the required content. Constructing an outline that reflects how your APA formatted paper should look will ensure that you have all of the required sections of content.

Set up

Type Roman numerals one through six, flush left, and follow each with a period. Type one Roman numeral per line.

Type the following section headings for Roman numerals one through six respectively: Abstract, Introduction, Method, Study, Results and Discussion.

Indent one tabbed space under section heading four, the Method section, and type capital letters A, B, C and D. Align the letters vertically and follow each with a period.

Type the following subheadings for letters A through D respectively: Participants, Design, Materials and Procedure. Do this in section four only.

Type “A.” under each section heading, and continue through the alphabet for each main idea you have for that section. These are your subheadings. Do not do this for section four.

Type “1.” and “2.” under each subheading.


Type a word, phrase or sentence for each subheading that states a main idea upon which you will base one or more body paragraphs.

Type explanatory details in the locations where you have typed a “1.” or “2.” State key points you will use to support or demonstrate the phrase or sentence in the subheading.

Review your teacher’s instructions for what additional content you must discuss in your paper, and add this information to your outline where it fits appropriately, either as additional subheadings or details.


Alternate between letters and numbers when you increase the number of details in each section.

Each section heading in an outline must have at least two subheadings.

Do not be inflexible with your outline. Rearrange items when writing your paper as long as it does not interfere with the skeletal structure of the paper or go against APA formatting guidelines.