How to Write a Good Outline

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Use an outline to organize your ideas.
Use an outline to organize your ideas. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Outlines are used in business, academic and research environments to prepare reports, papers and presentations. According to the University of Albany, writing an outline before a paper helps the writer organize his thoughts and write a better paper. By learning to write a good outline, you organize your thoughts effectively and see beneficial results in your work.

Develop a strong introductory statement to use in the first section of the outline. This statement should be a complete, brief sentence that gives the central idea of the project.

Determine the best structure to present the information you have. There are several ways that you can present the information in an outline, but all of them require breaking up ideas into sections with more specific ideas breaking off from those sections. An outline that begins with a general idea and moves to specifics is the most common.

Practice parallelism and coordination in the outline. Parallelism means organizing using parallel structure — beginning each item with a verb for example — while coordination means using section headings of the same significance or balance.

Choose between a topic outline and a sentence outline. Topic outlines are broad overviews that use short phrases or words, while sentence outlines are in-depth and use full sentences that can later be used in the paper or presentation.

Divide your outline into sections, using Roman numerals to designate the major sections. Use letters and standard numbers to designate subsections inside each major section. Most outlines contain at least three major sections that represent the major points you wish to make in the work.

Write a conclusion to finish the outline and designate it with a Roman numeral as well. The conclusion should restate the idea but not provide any new information. This gives the reader the main idea, followed by the body and supporting information, before finishing with the main idea once again to reinforce the points.

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