This guide offers three options for creating an outline: by topic, by sub-points or claims, or by storyboard.
The topic outline
Topic outlines do not include complete sentences. They allow you to put your topics and subtopics in related groups, and to prioritize information.
Topic outlines work well for shorter, simpler assignments, such as a speech, where you don’t have to make a complex argument. Memos, cover letters, short response papers, or SWOT analyses are a few examples of assignments that might take a topic outline.
Example topic outline
- Introduction: Laptops in Classrooms
- A. Labs
- B. Classrooms
- Using Laptops to Revise
- A. Study A
- B. Study B
The point outline
In a point outline, you arrange a numbered list of complete sentences that capture key moments in your argument.
Point outlines help you see whether the structure of your argument makes sense. Use it to test out your structure once you’ve done research, gathered notes or even started writing a draft, and to make sure one point leads logically to the next.
Point outlines work well for essays with complex argument/thesis statements, including compare/contrast essays and longer analyses.
Example point outline
- Introduction: Value of classroom computers uncertain.
- Different uses have different effects.
- A. All uses increase flexibility.
- B. Networked computer labs allow student interaction.
- C. Classroom computers rarely enhance learning
- D. In-class laptops are often a distraction (Facebook, email, surfing).
- Studies show benefits to revision are limited.
- A. Study A: writers are more wordy.
- B. Study B: writers need hard copies to revise effectively.
- Conclusion: Too soon to tell how much classroom laptops improve learning.
- A. Too few reliable empirical studies.
- B. Too little history, too many programs in transition.
- C. Some schools are adding programs; some dropping programs.
The storyboard outline
For this option, you’ll need index cards to organize your ideas. Like the point outline, you use complete sentences, but each sentence is listed on a separate card, so you can readily move them around.
Storyboard outlines allows you to see your points laid out visually, and to rearrange, discard, or reprioritize claims according to your needs.
Storyboarding works well for projects where you’re have many options for organization, like research papers, detailed case studies, or fiction. Use this strategy when you have a lot of important points but don’t yet have a clear idea of what order they work best in.
For more examples and a detailed explanation of storyboard outlines, read former one form Writing Center consultant’s essay, “The Joy of Outlining,” in our journal of staff writing.
This resource from the Baruch College Writing Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You are free to share, adapt, transform, or otherwise use this material in any medium, with attribution.