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How to write an MLA research paper outline

On February 19th, 2019, Posted by admin

MLA research paper outline and the MLA referencing style

Are you confused by the different styles of formatting and references needed for writing academic papers? Here are a few pointers and examples of one of these – the MLA type. And what about the difference between the MLA research paper outline specified by your university and the MLA referencing system? Actually, they are the two sides of the same coin, as the saying goes. Let me explain step by step:

MLA is the style formatted by the Modern Language Association and is widely followed in universities across the United States. This style is mainly recommended for arts and humanities papers that need a standard layout technique. For instance, Language and Literature studies in English and other languages, Literary criticism, Comparative literature studies, humanities courses like Cultural studies, History and so on.

The format of the papers follows certain rules that make the papers easily readable and consistent. The readability factor is very important for the readers of such papers in the universities – the course faculty, who have to read a lot of papers for grading. And the MLA referencing style follows the same guidelines for setting out the in-line citations and the final Cited Works presentation. Now that these are clear, let us examine each of them one by one:

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The MLA research paper outline

General outline requirements

MLA research outlineAs mentioned before, the main focus of the outline is on the readability factor. Therefore, the font used should be a standard one that is widely available on most systems, such as Times New Roman. The clear typeface of this font also makes it easy to take a printout of the assignment. The font size is set at 12 so it is easily readable. A 1-inch margin on all the sides and a double line spacing are also two other essential features. Remember that the MLA format requires that the paragraphs are indented. It is usually indented 5 spaces, but it is easier to use the tab key.

Insert a header and write your name and the page number, indented to the left. The page numbers are in the Roman lower-case format for the initial pages (i, ii, iii, iv…) like the pages with the Abstract, Contents, etc. and in Arabic numerals for the subsequent content pages (1, 2, 3, 4…).

The first page of the outline is the cover page. This maybe a separate page when required by the university. This contains the information about the title, the course, student, and other details. Remember that the cover page is a stand-alone page and should not have any other material regarding the topic. But if it is not asked for specifically, then the same information can be written above the title, indented to the left top corner. The standard cover page for a research paper can be selected from either of these:

Student’s Name

Tutor’s Name

Course name and number

XX Month 20xx

Paper Title

These are written tone below the other centered, starting from about one third of the page from the top.

Paper title

Student’s name

Course name

Professor’s name


The title is centered one-third of the way down from the top, the name of the student is centered about halfway down the page, and the other three are centered at the bottom of the page.

The main features of the MLA research paper outline

Here is a sample outline of the MLA research paper with the explanations given in the outline:


As in all assignments, the first part of the research paper is the Introduction. In the Introduction, a preview of the topic and brief background information is written. The length of the Introduction depends on the length of the assignment.

But the main focus should be on the Thesis Statement. The Thesis statement should be in a sentence form, for instance:

Thesis Statement: The actual thesis statement is written in one sentence.

Body Paragraphs

The guidelines sometimes recommend the use of section headings and secondary and tertiary sub-headings. These help to focus the reader’s attention on the main idea in each section and aids in giving a brief view of their content, without having to read them completely and to improve readability. These sections could be about each different chapter of the book under discussion or other main ideas that explain your thesis statement.

The method of writing the body paragraphs, what should be written in them and how to number these paragraphs, is given below: Take particular note of the numbering method used for the main headings, the sub-headings and the other secondary/tertiary headings

I. A full sentence expressing a main idea to support the thesis

A. A sub-heading in the form of a phrase that offers one of the proofs from your research to support the main idea.

1. Other minor sub-headings in the form of a phrase about the particular corroborating details through examples or statistics





II. The second most important idea that underpins the thesis. You must note that each main body paragraph must have a focal idea.







III. Another main idea








Write a brief paragraph about the how your thesis contributes or adds to the knowledge base of the subject for the readers as well as to the general world of research.

Work Cited page

The Works Cited section in the MLA research outline has a prominent place. This is because it is a proof or authentication of the writer’s ability and skill in research and also demonstrates the writer’s accountability by citing sources from where they have borrowed ideas for the paper.

The system for the in-line citations are also different from other styles such as Chicago and APA. The in-text citation that is placed next to the idea/s taken from the source comprises only of the name of the authors/s. The year is not mentioned in the in-text citation. However, the page numbers may be asked sometimes. When the author’s name/s are already mentioned in the sentence, the name of the book/journal/publication is written within the brackets. Direct quotations need the page number.

The detailed system for writing the sources in the Works Cited page is usually given by the tutors of found in the library. Some general guidelines are given below:

  • The font that you choose should have a distinct differentiation between the normal text and the italics version
  • Double line spaces and a 12-size font for improving the readability
  • Single space after periods just as after the other punctuations

These pointers to writing a good MLA research paper outline are general and you should discuss with your tutor for the specific format used in your institution. However, if you find them difficult and cumbersome, you can order your own research paper here in the given topic in the MLA format, written by an expert writer.

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