An outline presents a picture of the main ideas and the subsidiary ideas of any subject. Some typical uses of outlining are: a class reading assignment, an essay, a term paper, a book review or a speech. For any of these, an outline will show a basic overview and important details.
Some professors will require an outline in sentence form, or require the main points to be in chronological order, or have other specific requirements. A student’s first responsibility, of course, is to follow the requirements of the particular assignment. What follows illustrates only the basics of outlining. The library presents it as a quick reminder because students often ask about outlining, and the information is not easy to find quickly in various reference books.
BASIC OUTLINE FORM
Below is a synopsis of the outline form. The main ideas take roman numerals. Sub-points under each main idea take capital letters and are indented. Sub-points under the capital letters, if any, take italic numbers and are further indented.
I. MAIN IDEA
A. Subsidiary idea or supporting idea to I
B. Subsidiary idea or supporting idea to I
1. Subsidiary idea to B
2. Subsidiary idea to B
a) Subsidiary idea to 2
idea to 2
II. MAIN IDEA
A. Subsidiary or supporting idea to II
B. Subsidiary idea to II
C. Subsidiary idea to II
III. MAIN IDEA
It is up to the writer to decide on how many main ideas and supporting ideas adequately describe the subject. However, if there is a I in the outline, there has to be a II; if there is an A, there has to be a B; if there is a 1, there has to be a 2, and so forth.
Suppose you are outlining a speech on AIDS, and these are some of the ideas you feel should be included: AZT, Transmittal, AIDS babies, Teenagers, Safe sex, Epidemic numbers, Research.
To put these ideas into outline form, decide first on the main encompassing ideas. These might be: I. Transmittal, II. Societal Consequences, III. Research.
Next, decide where the rest of the important ideas fit in. Are they part of AIDS transmittal or AIDS societal consequences or AIDS research solutions? The complete outline might look like this:
Major Aspects of Aids
I. Transmittal of AIDS
B. Body fluids
II. Societal Consequences of AIDS