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A short Guide for writing an Outline

No matter what sort of document you wish to produce, you’re going to want to know how to write an outline first. Outlines are essential to help you gather your thoughts together and put them into a cohesive flow of ideas. Think of an outline like you would a road map. With a road map, you can pinpoint the most direct route so you can make a bee line from the beginning to your destination. Or you could map out a more scenic route, just to add a few twist and turns to make the journey more interesting. In either case, your map will get you where you want to go without getting lost.

An outline aids in the process of writing, helps you organize your ideas, presents your material in a logical form, shows the relationships among ideas in your writing, constructs an ordered overview of your writing and it defines boundaries and groups.

Most importantly, an outline reflects logical thinking and clear classification.

Before you begin writing your outline, orient yourself to the purpose and final goal of your writing. This will immensely help you draw a straight path (or whatever path you like) from where you begin to where you want to go. Most importantly, this prevents you from straying away from what path you must take, as most of the time you will have to limit your document’s length, and every word used effectively is valuable.

After having your path defined, start brainstorming: list all the possible points to add to your writing as soon as they come to mind. Most of the time, you will have more points than necessary, so omit all those less significant. In conjuncture to the re-orientation you’ve done in the previous step, always have an image in your mind of how your ideas will relate to the final purpose of your writing.

When you think you have enough ideas to go, start organizing them by grouping them together. Use your imagination and logic in finding relations between ideas. A usual pattern of grouping is to classify some ideas as purposes of something, technical detail and how something works in the middle, and conclusions. This is not the obligatory guideline, though.

Proceed by putting your ideas in good order. Determine what is best to put in the start, such as backgrounds, points of abstracts, purposes etc. Then proceed to the middle: the details and real informative content of your document. At the end, put in conclusions, etc.

Most, if not all, outlines have related ideas of different significance and scope that subordinate each other. At the top of your hierarchy, you should put in a general scope of several ideas. Proceed by putting in more specific ideas after that in subordination. A subordinated idea is written below its “parent” idea with an indent, and have a different labeling, e.g. while its parent is labeled in numbers, the subordinate ideas are listed with capitalized alphabet (A, B, C), while their further subordinates may be labeled with non-capitalized alphabet (a, b, c).

These are basically what to keep in mind when writing an effective outline. Remember that the form of your final document will be greatly affected by how you write your outline, and however strong you think your brain may be, it is much safer to write down your outline rather than just keeping them “in your head”. Furthermore, good luck.