How to Write My Informal Outline With a Thesis

Outlines are designed to help structure and organize thoughts before drafting a paper. Informal outlines do not have the rigid structure of formal outlines, and although they may be numbered or left unnumbered, they do not use roman numerals. It is important before beginning any outline to have a basic idea of your topic and the points you want to address. Remember to move from a general idea to increasingly more specific ideas when drafting your outline topics.

Title your outline to reflect the actual title of the paper. Include the word "outline." For example, "Tiger Conservation Methods Outline." Center the title and do not punctuate it.

Write your thesis clearly in sentence form and label it "thesis." Refrain from using figurative language but include the main points you will address. For example, "Thesis: Tiger conservation methods include preventing poaching, breeding in captivity and limiting habitat destruction." If the paper is argumentative, your thesis should be an arguable idea.

Write the main idea of your first body section on a new line. This will most likely be the first idea in your thesis. For example, "Poaching Prevention." This may or may not be numbered.

Write one detail, or subtopic, of that main idea on a new line. For example, "Patrolling known poaching areas."

Indent and write at least two details of the Step 4 main idea on separate lines. For example, "Training patrollers" and "Success rates."

Indent and write at least two details of the Step 5 topics underneath their respective topic. For example, under "Training patrollers" you might write "training forestry officials" and "rehabilitating poachers." If you cannot think of at least two specific ideas that directly relate to your Step 5 topic, then skip this step.

Repeat Steps 4, 5 and 6 with a new subtopic of the same main idea. This step must be completed once and may be repeated multiple times. Make sure you write every subtopic. Do not stop with two if you can think of more.

Repeat Step 3 with the second idea in the thesis. For example, "Breeding in Captivity."

Repeat Steps 4, 5 and 6 with details for Step 8's topic. This step must be completed for at least two details and may be repeated for more.

Repeat Steps 8 and 9 for your third main idea. If you have more than three main ideas, repeat this step for each of your remaining main ideas.


Outlines are often double-spaced. If you do not double space, remember to skip spaces between each main idea, between the title and the thesis, and between the thesis and the rest of the outline.


Remember to place each topic, subtopic and detail on a separate line. When moving from topic to subtopic, and subtopic to detail, always indent even if you are not numbering.

In classes, teachers may have specifications for exact formatting, particularly for informal outlines. If you are writing for a class, make sure to review your assignment sheet or instructions or ask your teacher if there are specific formatting requirements he expects, such as double-spacing, typing or numbering.

Things You'll Need

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Computer
  • Word-processing program