How to create a successful outline

Not enough people know how to properly create an outline and that amazes me. The first step is to actually understand the material you’re reading because if you’re simply taking chunks of the chapter, you’re not going to get anywhere. There are different types of outlines, there’s one that the professor wants you to hand in, outlining your research paper and there’s an outline of a chapter. This lesson is going to cover both.

Research outline

This will be the guts of your paper. Once you’ve figured out your topic and the general direction of your paper, creating an outline is pretty straightforward. You really need to know your thesis before completing the outline and my suggestion if you’re confused, is to not worry about the thesis until the end. Start with the information.

Once you’ve gathered your research, you generally know the idea of what you want to talk about first. If you’re completely lost, choose the idea that would be a great opener – something that’s controversial, interesting or your audience would agree with. To choose what’s next in line, ask yourself, “After idea A, what is an easy transition?” If you’re going from dogs to VCRs, there’s probably not going to be an easy connection. Transitions between different sections can be made very simple if you choose topics that seem to flow well together. Also remember that nothing is set in stone. If later you realize you should have put topic B where topic F is, change it.

Because this article is so long, I’m going to cut it off here and allow you to view the rest of entry if you choose to do so.

Depending on what your professor wants, sometimes you include your thesis and sometimes you don’t. Make sure you ask. Here’s a sample outline for an academic research paper:

United States’ policies on the War on Terrorism
I. Introduction
1. History of United States
2. Examples when U.S. gave up rights and negative effects
II. War on Terrorism
1. Modern terrorism
2. Compare modern to previous
3. Where is the end?
III. Legislation
1. PATRIOT Act
2. Domestic Security Enhancement Act
IV. Policies
1. wiretapping
2. illegal search warrants
3. enemy detainees
V. Current laws
1. Constitution
A. 4th Amendment
B. 5th Amendment
C. 6th Amendment
2. Geneva conventions
3. International Humanitarian Law
VI. Conclusion

Chapter outline

Basically, this is just notes from the chapter(s) in an organized form to make digesting the information much easier. Take one chapter at a time and realize that if you outline it properly, this will be the last time you read this chapter. You’re making your life easier when the test comes.

All chapters have headings, sometimes they are listed at the beginning of the chapter. In this case, I create a short outline of the chapter headings and then fill in the information as I read. It works the same as online headings – h1 is the main, h2 is underneath that and so on. Here’s an example:

United States Bill of Rights
I. First Amendment
1. Freedom of religion
2. Freedom of speech
3. Freedom of the press
4. Freedom to assemble peacefully
5. Right to petition the government
II. Second Amendment – Right to keep and bear arms
III. Third Amendment – Soldiers shall not be quartered in houses of citizens without permission
IV. Fourth Amendment
1. Protection against unlawful search and seizure
2. Warrants to search/seize only issued with probable cause and affirmed by judge/magistrate
3. Warrant must give detailed description of place being search and item(s) being seized
V. Fifth Amendment
1. Right to a trial by jury
2. Protects against double jeopardy
3. Protects the right against self incrimination
4. Right to due process
VI. Sixth Amendment
1. Right to a speedy and public trial
2. Right to impartial jury in district where crime was committed
3. Right to confront witnesses against oneself
4. To have a defending attorney
VII. Seventh Amendment – Right to trial by jury in civil matters over $20
VIII. Eighth Amendment
1. Prohibition of excessive bail
2. Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment
IX. Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights
X. Tenth Amendment – Powers not granted to the federal government or denied to the states are reserved for the states

19 Responses to “How to create a successful outline”

  1. Lixin says:

    Thanks for your comment!
    Well, I’ve learnt never to save my images in .gif.
    Always in .png or .jpeg.

    And, interesting entry!

  2. David says:

    What a nice post and blog. Thanks for stopping by mine recently. Guess what? Would you like some new readers? Good because I have tagged you and you can read about it on my blog. It will take five seconds. Not to worry and have a great day.

  3. Vio says:

    That is so funny that I came across this. I’m in the middle of writing an outline.

  4. Erica says:

    I’ve always done outlines that way, it’s very helpful.

  5. Just came across your website… looks like we have similar-ish names! Nice site, like the look and feel. As for the research outline, I’ve got one due in Thursday… so your tips will definitely help :lol:

  6. Ben says:

    Thanks for the information on topics.I was excited by this article. Thank you again

  7. Sarah says:

    Wow, that was very informative! I haven’t written a large research paper to date, but when I do, I will use these guidelines. Thanks for posting!

  8. […] Make Outlines. One of the best ways to keep focused on what you’re studying is to make an outline (I’ve even made outlines of outlines for really hard classes). It helps if you pick out the key points which can serve as a study tool for later. Sydney at That College Kid has a great post about the basics of creating a successful outline. […]

  9. Amber says:

    I love writing outlines! This was pretty informative!! I’m writing two outlines currently so I probably will be coming back to your site a few times just to check and make sure I’m doing everything correctly!

  10. Anna says:

    I’m really glad I don’t have to do a research proposal. My course doesn’t require it, but if I did have to do one…this is where I would come to get help on how to go about it. Good stuff, gonna send some friends over here just so that they know what to do. :D

  11. Starlet says:

    Great informative post, but it just makes me happy that I am no longer in school/college/uni lol

  12. […] How to Create a Successful Outline […]

  13. Ryan Harris says:

    Hey thanks for this great article on how to write an Outline. You are right, this is a skill that most students don’t have. This is the type of post that is in short supply, one that has good content and that took some time to write. I am going to link to it from my blog. I have subscribed to your feed, and look forward to your next post.

  14. […] always be improved upon, with further references, clearer presentation (bullet points, headings, outlines, etc.), greater understanding, and less information that doesn’t require prompting. All the […]

  15. Steve Prive says:

    Outlining really is a difficult task to do especially if your not understanding what your reading. It is difficult then to stress out those important points that need to be outlined. Try to note those ideas that are important and compare them with the other so that ideas that are the most important will be stressed out.

  16. jimmie ashford says:

    This website helps out a lot

  17. My writing sucks let see if I can use this :P

  18. Wendy says:

    I am learning now how to do outlines but I find it easier if I write the essay first than create an outline!

  19. Wendy says:

    Thanks for your example very helpful :)

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