Writing a Formal Outline

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.

Visit the following sites for more information and examples:

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