How to Write an Outline

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I mentioned in a previous blog post how writing an outline can improve your writing without explaining how to write an outline. Knowing how to write an outline is the first step to seeing how writing an outline can be beneficial to your writing.

What is an Outline?

An outline is an organized, generalized plan of ideas to be presented a paper, story, speech, or other writing material. An outline shows the order that your ideas will be presented and how your ideas relate to each other.

Ways to Write an Outline 

  1. Topic One
  2. Subtopic One
    1. Detail One
    2. Detail Two
    3. Subtopic Two
      1. Detail One
      2. Detail Two


  • Topic One
    • Subtopic One
      • Detail One
      • Detail Two
      • Subtopic Two
        • Detail One
        • Detail Two

Rules on How to Write an Outline

  • Topic and Subtopic headings must have at least two parts.
    • Topic One (in example above) must have at least Subtopic One and Subtopic Two.
    • Subtopic One (in example above) must have at least Detail One and Detail Two.
    • The list may continue beyond two, but cannot be less than two.
  • Subtopic headings support ideas of Topic heading.
  • Detail headings support ideas of Subtopic heading.
  • Proper indentation is necessary to distinguish hierarchy of ideas.

Tips on How to Write an Outline

  • Do your research and reading before outlining.
    • Take notes (not in outline form) before you write an outline.
    • Keep looking over your notes when you write an outline so you can organize your thoughts clearly and correctly.
    • Have your research materials nearby for reference.
  • Word processing programs provide convenient outline formats.
  • Does your outline answer Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?

How often do you outline before you write? Vote in my poll here.


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