APA Outline Format Examples

The guidelines from the American Psychological Association or APA are used for writing papers and doing assignments in the social sciences. They have guidelines for research papers, from the initial title page to the final works cited page. The APA even provides format examples for outlines to be prepared before the paper is written.

Understanding the APA Outline Format

When you look at the basic APA outline format example in this article, you will see that Roman numerals are used for the main headings in your outline, and capital letters are used for the sub-headings. Inside the sub-headings you use Arab numerals and lower case letters, in that order followed by Arab numerals in parenthesis.

The full sentence outline is set up the same way, but with full sentences on each level of the outline.

A less common form is the decimal outline, and your professor will tell you which kind of outline to use.

The best way to gain an understanding of the APA outline format is to look at examples. Following are three APA outline format examples. To save space in the examples, only the first section of the outline will show the proper spacing.

The College Application Process (Basic APA format)

I. Choose Desired Colleges

A. Visit and evaluate college campuses

B. Visit and evaluate college websites

1. look for interesting classes

2. note important statistics

a. student/faculty ratio

b. retention rate

II. Prepare Application

A. Write Personal Statement

1. Choose interesting topic

a. describe an influential person in your life

(1) favorite high school teacher

(2) grandparent

2. Include important personal details

a. volunteer work

b. participation in varsity sports

B. Revise personal statement

III. Compile resume

A. List relevant coursework

B. List work experience

C. List volunteer experience

1. tutor at foreign language summer camp

2. counselor for suicide prevention hotline

Full Sentence Outline Format

I. Man-made pollution is the primary cause of global warming.

A. Greenhouse gas emissions are widely identified by the scientific

community to be harmful.

1. The burning of coal and fossil fuels are the primary releasers of

hazardous greenhouse gases.

(Full sentence outlines are often accompanied with an APA reference list on a separate page. Quotes within the outline must also utilize APA in-text citations.)

Decimal Outline Format

1.0 Choose Desired College

1.1 Visit and evaluate college campuses

1.2 Visit and evaluate college websites

1.2.1 Look for interesting classes

1.2.2 Note important statistics

Tips on Creating an Outline

A well-written outline is a valuable tool in presenting a well-written research paper. The outline is the first step in creating the structure for what will be said in the paper as well as how it will be said.

Here are a few tips:

  • Use parallelism – Parallelism refers to the structure between headings and sub-headings. The structure needs to remain consistent throughout all the headings and sub-headings. For example, this means if you start each heading with a verb, then all your headings and subheadings should start with a verb.

Example: “Choose Desired Colleges” and “Prepare Application” “Choose” and “Prepare” are both verbs. However, it is preferable in an outline to use the present tense of the verb.

Example: “Visit and evaluate college campuses” and “Visit and evaluate college websites”

Example: “1. Note important statistics” and “2. Look for interesting classes”

  • Use coordination – Coordination is important between headings. In other words, all the headings should have the same amount of significance or importance. The rule applies to sub-headings as well, but their information will be less significant than the headings.


I. Choose Desired Colleges

   A. Visit and evaluate college campuses

   B. Visit and evaluate college websites

      1. look for interesting classes

      2. note important statistics

(College campuses and college websites are equally important.)

  • Use subordination – Subordination is the relationship between the headings and the sub-headings.  Information in headings is general in nature, and the information contained in the sub-headings should be more specific, and so on to the other levels.


A. Describe an influential person in your life

     1. Favorite high school teacher

     2. Grandparent

(The category of influential people in your life is general, and a favorite teacher and grandparent are specific.)

  • Use division – Division should be accomplished in this manner. Each heading needs to have at least two parts. It can have more, but if you have too many, then you may need to put in another heading or sub-heading or combine some of the divisions.


A. Compile resume

     1. List relevant coursework

     2. List work experience

     3. List volunteer experience

(The heading “Compile resume” is divided into 3 parts.)

An outline is usually required when writing a paper for a college course. Be sure and ask your professor for the required format for your particular course.

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