Organizing key points into a clear, logical framework

Formal outlines are not required by most writing instructors. However, an outline can help writers refine ideas in the prewriting process by organizing key points into a clear, logical framework. They can also help keep you from wandering off-topic. An outline serves as a blueprint of a to-be-finished paper. Most students find that producing a well-organized outline before they begin writing makes it easier to get started.

There are two major types of outlines: topic outlines and sentence outlines.

A topic outline allows writers to organize the topics of a paper quickly without going into details. It may use noun phrases, infinitive phrases, or gerund phrases instead of sentences.

A sentence outline allows writers to crystallize ideas by summarizing a paragraph’s point or a major sub-point in a paragraph in one clear sentence. It also enables the writer to judge the overall organization of their paper in terms of clarity, coherence, and flow.

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By Shou-ching Chao, Ph.D.
Last updated October 2016 by Allison Haas