Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

Proper Chicago Outline Format for an Essay

One of the first steps to writing a college or high school essay or research paper in Chicago 17 style is creating an outline. An essay outline not only helps you organize your thoughts and sources, but it actually helps with writing the paper itself. But first, you must familiarize yourself with how to format an outline properly.

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Chicago Style Outline Format

An essay outline in Chicago style format follows a hierarchical structure. The highest level sections are in Roman numerals, followed by subsections in capital letters, and then subsections beneath that in regular numerals.


Roman Numeral

Capital Letter




I. Introduction

II. First idea

A. Explanation

1. Methodology
2. Literature Review

III. Second idea

A. Overview of Research

1.Study 1

2. Study 2

III. Conclusion

Why Create an Essay Outline

1st: It is part of your assignment.
Your teacher may include an outline as part of the assignment. If the paper is long, often instructors will ask for an outline as the first part of the assignment. This allows the teacher to track your progress.
2nd: It helps you stay organized.

Starting a research project is overwhelming at first. You have all these steps to follow and sources to pull together. By creating an outline, you stay organized throughout the process.

3rd: It helps formulate your thesis statement.

Organizing your paper before you start writing helps clarify your thoughts. This way, you can develop a strong thesis statement.

Formatting Your Outline

A student Preparing a Chicago Author-Date Essay Outline

Each citation style has a different paper format to follow; however, the basic format is:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

The Chicago/Turabian author-date style for writing papers follows a similar format. When you are creating your outline, use either a plain outline with no formatting or follow a formal structure.

Types of Outlines

There are two main types of outlines:

  • Topic – This type of outline is brief. You simply include a few words to guide your thoughts through the process of writing your paper.
  • Sentence – The sentence type of outline is more thorough. This type is useful for in-depth research papers. You can write out full sentences to guide you through the research and writing process.
Note: Your teacher may instruct you to use either a topic or sentence outline.


If your teacher allows it, you may create a rough outline format, eliminating the numbering system. If you’re writing a short essay, that may be all you need. However, it’s best to create a numbered outline. This makes it easy for you to see where you are in your research writing process.

Make It Easy for Yourself

Developing outlines, preliminary bibliographies and rough drafts may seem like extra steps that create more work. However, as you write more essays and research papers, you will realize this extra work pays off in a big way. Writing your final paper flows easier, your paper reads better, and your grades improve too. It is well worth the effort to learn the preliminary work, especially as you start college level writing.

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