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Preparing a Chicago Author-Date Essay Outline


One of the first steps to writing a college or high school essay or research paper is creating an outline.

A student Preparing a Chicago Author-Date Essay Outline

Why Create an Essay Outline

  1. Part of your assignment
    1. 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 s/he to track your progress.
  2. Helps you stay organized
    1. 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.
  3. Helps formulate your thesis statement
    1. Organizing your paper before you start writing helps clarify your thoughts so you can develop a strong thesis statement.

Formatting Your 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.

Outline Format

Roman Numeral
Capital Letter


I. Introduction

II. First idea

A. Explanation

1. Study 1
2. Study 2

III. Conclusion

Types of Outlines

There are two types of outlines:

  • Topic – This type of outline is brief. You simply include one or two 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.

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.

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

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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