How to make an outline (with pictures)

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How to make an outline (with pictures)
How to make an outline (with pictures)

An outline is a great way to organize ideas and information for a speech, essay, novel, or study guide based on your notes from class. At first, it might seem difficult to write one, but if you learn how to do it, this will give you a vital organizing skill! First plan it and choose its structure. Then you can organize your ideas in an easy-to-understand outline.


Part 1 of 4: Plan the schematic

Write Your Congressional Representative Step 6
Write Your Congressional Representative Step 6

Step 1. Determine if you are going to write it by hand or type

If you are only preparing it for your personal use, you should choose what works best for you. If you are preparing it for an assignment, you will have to follow the teacher's directions.

  • Some people assimilate their ideas more effectively by writing them down. Plus, you can easily draw diagrams or write examples, which can help you conceptualize your topic. However, it may take more time to jot down your outline, and it won't look as neat.
  • On the other hand, it might be easier for you to type it if you already have your notes on the computer, since you will only have to copy and paste them into the outline. Copying and pasting will also allow you to easily rearrange sections, if necessary. Also, if you type it, you can copy and paste its information into the essay more easily. On the other hand, you will have more difficulty taking notes in the margins or drawing organization diagrams.
Do Research Step 19
Do Research Step 19

Step 2. Define the topic

Outlines help organize your thoughts, ideas, or research on a topic. These will have no purpose if they lack a main theme. The topic could focus on an assignment or stem from a personal goal.

  • If you are working on a creative project (such as a novel), you will need to identify the concept, genre, or premise. You will then need to use the outline making process to help you structure your work.
  • There is no problem if the topic is a bit broad at the beginning, but you should have a clear objective. For example, the topic of your history essay might be life in France during the German occupation in WWII. As you write your outline, you could narrow it down to resistance fighters called maquisards.
Fight Fair Step 29
Fight Fair Step 29

Step 3. Identify the purpose of the outline (p

g., inform, entertain or reflect). Reflect on what you hope to achieve with it. Are you going to complete an essay, write a novel, or give a speech? This will allow you to recognize what the essay, book, or speech will bring to the audience. Typically, the goal could be to inform, entertain, or share the writer's reflections.

Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 9
Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 9

Step 4. Know your target audience

In some cases, you will have to write an outline for a class assignment or your work. However, many times you will prepare it for your own use, either to complete an assignment or to reach a goal. If your outline is for school or work, you should follow the formatting prompts and present your ideas in a way that others can understand.

  • If it is a school assignment, you will have to review the file of the same or consult with the teacher. If the scheme is for your work, you should use another as a model.
  • If you will be the only one who is going to see it, you can choose a format that works for you. For example, you could write it in shorthand.
Change Your Name in Hawaii Step 12
Change Your Name in Hawaii Step 12

Step 5. Attach your notes, researched information, or supporting material, if applicable

In many cases, you will need to integrate information that you have gathered through research, note taking, or personal experiences. It will be important that you review this information before starting the outline, as you will get the main and minor points from it. You could include some of the following items:

  • paraphrased ideas
  • quotes
  • statistics
  • historical facts
Do Research Step 5
Do Research Step 5

Step 6. Brainstorm to identify the main argument or ideas

Write down your ideas, the important parts of the investigation, and any questions you may have. For a creative project, you could write ideas for scenes or plot points. Write down everything you could include in the outline. You can delete the ideas later! Here are some ways to organize your thoughts:

  • Write freely as ideas occur to you.
  • Create a mind map.
  • Write your thoughts on index cards.
Change Your Name in Hawaii Step 2
Change Your Name in Hawaii Step 2

Step 7. Develop a thesis or main idea for the outline

In most cases, this will be the thesis that will be used to complete the final product (such as an essay). However, there will be no problem using a main idea or general premise when creating an outline for a novel or study guide. The thesis will help you guide the outline as you create major and minor sections that organize the information.

For example, you might have to write an essay on policy changes. The thesis could be “Policy makers should take a progressive approach when changing policies; in this way, they will reduce conflicts, allow time to adapt and allow an agreement to be reached”. Each of the three reasons indicated in the thesis will become a main point in the scheme

Part 2 of 4: Structure it

Conduct Research Step 2
Conduct Research Step 2

Step 1. Write an alphanumeric outline as a simple method

You may not recognize this name, but most schematics follow the alphanumeric format. Each level of the scheme will be organized using a letter or a number. This is the way these are organized from main ideas to secondary ideas:

  • Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, V
  • Uppercase letters: A, B, C
  • Arabic numbers: 1, 2, 3
  • Lowercase letters: a, b, c
  • Arabic numbers in parentheses: (1), (2), (3)
Reduce Your Student Loan Payments Step 4
Reduce Your Student Loan Payments Step 4

Step 2. Create a decimal outline to highlight the relationship between the ideas

This type of scheme will be very similar to the alphanumeric ones; however, they will only use numbers and each secondary level will be set to decimals. This will allow you to illustrate that each secondary level is part of a larger storyline. This is how it can look:

  • 1.0 - Progressive change in policies allows agreement to be reached.

    • 1.1 - Both parties influence politics.

      • 1.1.1 - Each party presents its point before voting.
      • 1.1.2 - Citizens express their opinion.
    • 1.2 - Neither party gets everything it wants.
Start a Letter Step 5
Start a Letter Step 5

Step 3. Determine if you want to write full sentences or short sentences

Most outlines will include short sentences, which are called topic points. However, using complete sentences can help you better understand your ideas. If you're writing an outline-focused essay, full sentences will give you an edge in the final version.

  • You could use short sentences to organize ideas quickly, outline a speech, or create an outline just for yourself.
  • You could use complete sentences to write the final version more easily, create a good study guide, or fulfill the requirements for an assignment.

Part 3 of 4: Organize Your Ideas

Focus on Studies Step 8
Focus on Studies Step 8

Step 1. Group them together

Review the ideas that you have come up with and gather in the same group those that are related to each other. It's okay if you have a lot of information at the beginning. You can always eliminate ideas that you consider unnecessary. These groups will become the main points, so you will need to narrow them down until you have the desired number of main points. In the case of an essay or a speech, 3 groups are usually used, but creative work may require more.

  • If you've jotted down your ideas or made a mind map, you will need to use different colored highlighters to identify those that belong to the same group.
  • Order the cards, if you have used them to brainstorm. Collect those that have related ideas. For example, you can put them in stacks or rows to make them easier to read.
Open a Restaurant Step 5
Open a Restaurant Step 5

Step 2. Order each group from broad ideas to specific details

The first are more likely to be the main points, while the details will be part of the information you use to support them. Depending on the purpose of the outline, you may have many minor points and supporting details. However, you should have at least 2-3 secondary points, and 2-3 supporting details for each main idea.

  • For example, the main point could be that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein defends emotions over logic. The secondary points could be that nature restores Victor Frankenstein's happiness and that his scientific endeavors create a monster. You could include quotes from the book as supporting details.
  • If you are writing a story or presenting a historical argument, it makes sense to use a chronological order. For an essay or speech, you should choose the subtopic with the most supporting material and start with this argument. From there, you'll need to arrange the important subtopics so that each one flows naturally into the next.
  • Broad ideas should lead to the thesis or main idea. If they don't, you will have to rewrite your thesis so that it reflects the main ideas you put into your outline.
Apply for an Entrepreneurial Grant Step 8
Apply for an Entrepreneurial Grant Step 8

Step 3. Make the introduction as the first main point for a speech or an essay

You will be able to use complete phrases or sentences, which will depend on your choice. Some people prefer to write the introduction completely, and there is no problem with it. These are the points you will need in the introduction:

  • point that attracts the public
  • 1 or 2 general statements about the topic
  • thesis
Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 5
Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 5

Step 4. Create the body headings, if you haven't already

The headings of the outline will be the main points. You will have to classify them with Roman numerals if it is an alphanumeric scheme (I, II, III, etc.), or with Arabic numbers if you are going to make a decimal scheme (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc.). If you are going to write an essay, this would be the body of it. You should get these ideas directly from the thesis or main idea. For example, the headline of the main point presented above would look like this:

  • Phrase: II. Frankenstein defends emotions over logic.
  • Complete sentence: II. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley defends the use of emotions over logic.
Solve a Problem Step 4
Solve a Problem Step 4

Step 5. Write at least 2 secondary points for each main idea

The secondary points will be the second level of the scheme, so you must classify them as A, B, or C in the alphanumeric schemes; or in a decimal space in schemas of this type (1.1, 1.2, etc.). These will be the ideas that will explain the main point further. In an essay, they could be the motives behind the argument. In creative work, they could consist of the parts of the plot.

You could have more secondary points, depending on the purpose of the outline. For example, a novel could have many secondary points. Similarly, a study guide likely has several of them as well

Write a Grant Proposal Step 16
Write a Grant Proposal Step 16

Step 6. Add at least 2 supporting details for each secondary point

These will support or illustrate the point you want to make, and could include direct quotes, statistics, facts, or examples. This will be the third level of the scheme, so you should use Arabic numbers for alphanumeric schemes (1, 2, 3, etc.) or 2 decimal places (1.1.2) for those of this type.

  • In rehearsals, this is usually the part where you will "prove" the validity of the argument.
  • If it is creative work, you could include essential details that you will need to add in that scene, such as an internal conflict in the main character.
  • Similar to sub-points, you could have more supporting details, depending on your purpose. A novel or study guide is likely to have more of these details.
Start a Letter Step 7
Start a Letter Step 7

Step 7. Add more levels to the outline, if necessary

Most of the basic schematics include 3 levels, but you may need more. If so, you can continue creating secondary levels with the format structure you have chosen, either alphanumeric or decimal. For example, you might require more levels in order to provide more detail. In the case of Frankenstein, you could include a fourth level to write your comments on the quotes you have used to support your point. This is how you should continue with the levels:

  • Alphanumeric structure:

    • roman numeral
    • capital letter
    • arabic number
    • lowercase letter
    • Arabic number in parentheses
  • Decimal structure:

    • 1.0
    • 1.1
    • 1.1.1
Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 7
Write a Speech Introducing Yourself Step 7

Step 8. Make an outline of the conclusion, if you are writing an essay or a speech

You will not have to write the final conclusion completely at this point, as it will be much easier to do so after completing the essay or speech. However, it is a good idea to start organizing your thoughts. Secondary points could include the following:

  • a point that restates the thesis
  • 1 or 2 summary sentences
  • a conclusion statement

Part 4 of 4: Finish the outline

Defend Against Appropriation of Name or Likeness Claims Step 15
Defend Against Appropriation of Name or Likeness Claims Step 15

Step 1. Review it to verify that you have met your goal

The outline should be related to the thesis or main idea, address the purpose you wanted to fulfill, and take into account the needs of the target audience. If it doesn't, you may need to review it.

This will also give you an opportunity to identify missing and incomplete parts or ideas. If you find sections that leave questions unanswered, it is best to fill those gaps in the information

Write a Book Report Step 6
Write a Book Report Step 6

Step 2. Review the outline if any ideas are missing or incomplete

In some cases, you may have to add more information, such as additional supporting details. The review process will allow you to do so. You may also need to rewrite the sentences or phrases in order to make your ideas clearer.

If you are creating an outline for your personal use, you may not have to worry about it

Spot Fake News Sites Step 8
Spot Fake News Sites Step 8

Step 3. Edit it if you are submitting it for an assignment

Look for typos, grammar, and formatting errors. This will ensure that you get full credit for your work. Keep in mind that there will be no problem with using sentence fragments if you are creating an outline with sentences.

  • It will be a good idea to have someone else review it, as it is often difficult to spot mistakes in our own work.
  • When editing it, you will have to consult the file or the instructions of the assignment, thus guaranteeing that you have fulfilled everything requested. If you haven't, you will need to go back to the incomplete areas and correct them.
Write a Grant Proposal Step 19
Write a Grant Proposal Step 19

Step 4. Add levels if necessary

If you need to add additional secondary levels, you can use lowercase roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.), then lowercase letters (a, b, c, d, etc.) and finally reuse numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). In most cases, 3 or 4 levels will suffice. First combine the points before adding a fifth level.

  • You can use more if you want to include more information.
  • You could also use additional levels for lengthy creative work or a detailed study guide.


  • The outline should be concise and direct. This doesn't have to be perfectly written, it should just get your point across.
  • Feel free to remove irrelevant information as you investigate further and narrow your focus.
  • You will be able to use diagrams as a memorization tool. Choose concise words to explain a concept.
  • You can use specialized software or a text editor template to structure the outline automatically. For example, Microsoft Word allows you to create an outline document or format it your way.
  • At each level of the outline, you should apply an indentation of 1.5 to 2.5 cm (0.5 to 1 inch) ahead of the previous level, so you can recognize them more easily. Keep in mind that this might not work if you write complete sentences.
  • If you find evidence that contradicts your argument, you should not ignore it. You will need to include it in the outline and use sub-steps to summarize the counterargument.


  • The outline should not have exactly the same content as the essay. You will only have to write down the important statements, not every little detail.
  • Generally, you shouldn't have a single major or minor point at each level. If there is a point A, create a point B or include an idea of point A in the next one.

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