An outline is a map of a document’s main and support points. It is not, however, a prose piece with full sentences. ‘It is a collection of concise phrases, organized in the same sequence as the document. This section explains the uses and types of outlines, and methods for constructing them.

Uses of Outlines

Writers use outlines in two ways – as reading aids and as prewriting devices.

As a Reading Aid As a reading aid, the outline helps the reader grasp the sequence   and relationship of the ideas in a document. So constructing an outline is often a helpful way to start the summarizing process On a large sheet of paper, jot down main points and sub points until the pattern in the document emerges! Once you have ‘that, you can write the summary. Sometimes, of course, your goal is to grasp the material yourself, not to write for someone else. Then the outline is all you need. As you construct it, you achieve the understanding you need, so there’s no need to write out a summary.

As a Prewriting Device Writers use outlines as discovery and planning devices. The outline helps a write the relationship between, and the sequence of  ideas Constructing a prewriting outline is a messy business. Like drafting, outlining progresses in stages. In the early stages, you must move, merge, expand, and eliminate ideas, Your goal is to discover basic topics, organization and an approach. Later, after you have discovered your Madeiras and approach, your outline can become more rigid. Theoretically, if;,you have thought through all the ideas well enough, you should be able to write your document from your final outline. In practice, however, writing is a process of discovery, and outlines frequently change. Many word-processing programs, like Word Perfect and Microsoft Word, now include outlines, features that allow you to construct an outline on screen and then expand it into a paper.

Types of Outlines

There are two basic types of outlines: the traditional and the nucleus. Traditional Outlines The traditional Outline puts each phrase on a line and indicates the level of the idea by indentations and a number letter system.

This system clearly indicates the relationship of ideas. You should note, however, that usually such a complete outline is the final product of a long process of reworking a rough outline.

Nucleus Outlines The nucleus outline does not express relationships or a sequence of Ideas as neatly as the traditional method. Instead, the nucleus outline uses a more informal, clustering approach to group similar ideas. This type of outline, which you can make with or without circles, is helpful to use as a reading aid, allowing you to cluster on your paper ideas that are separated in the original pages. It also aids prewriting because it allows you to group related ideas in the appropriate cluster. .nucleus outline of the article, “New Generation of Anti-Static Foams” (p. 114).

How to Develop an Outline

To develop an outline you must draft, just as you do for the final version of the document. The basic method is to

• brainstotm

• cluster

• evaluate

Repeat the process until you have an outline.

To brainstorm a topic is simply to list everything you know about it. The list will not have any order or logically grouped sequences, but that
doesn’t matter. The key is to write your ideas on paper.

After you complete your brainstorming list, the next step is to cluster. To cluster means to indicate which ideas go together. You can use symbols, such as stars, for one duster, squares for another, or you can draw joined circles around similar items. After you cluster, you make a new draft that places all the similar items together.

Next, you evaluate your clusters. To evaluate is to decide if you have enough useful ideas or if you need to provide ~nore. If you need more, you can repeat the process of brainstorming and clustering until you are satisfied that you have developed a rough working outline



Summaries are short (from one paragraph to one page) versions of longer prose pieces. Used for many reasons, summaries can present the piece in miniature, giving as much emphasis to each section as is given in the original, or they can begin with the main idea followed by pertinent supporting details. For summaries, use the active voice and present tense, and do not use evaluative terms. Outlines are helpful devices both for reading comprehension and for prewriting. The two common types of outlines are the traditional and the nucleus. The traditional type, with its numbered indented lines, indicates relationships well. The nucleus outline, with its groups and lines, allows the easy development of sub parts. Both outlines are constructed by a drafting process that employs brainstorming and clustering to find and order ideas and concepts. Writers outline before writing in order to find the most effective presentation for their ideas.


1. Write a summary of an article you have read.in a periodical related to your field. Make it a miniaturization of the original by placing your
points in the same sequence as those of the original. Do not write more than one double-spaced page. Note: before you write, specify your
audience’s need for the summary.

2. Write a descriptive abstract of the same article.

3. Write a one-paragraph summary of the Baffle gab article in Chapter 4. Make the summary a one-to-one reduction of the original. Keep the
points in the same order as in the original.

4. Read three articles about a topic in your field that interests you. Construct a nucleus outline that merges the content of the three articles. Based on the outline write a brief, one- to two-page report on the topic presented in the articles .


American National Standards Institute (ANSI).American National Standard for Writing Ab$tracts (Z39.1~1979). New York:ANSI,1979.
“New Generation of Anti-Static Foams.” Packaging May 1986:65.



This section defines summaries and abstracts, explains the various audiences that use them, and presents the skills you need to.write them.

Definitions of Summaries and Abstracts

Some confusion exists about the definitions of these two words. Both words indicate a short restatement of another document. In technical writing~ summary is a restatement of the major findings one! conclusion of a document, placed after the text of the body and intended to help readers comprehend and review the text. An abstract, however, while also a restatement, is read before a reader studies the text (ANSI 7). Abstracts are designed to stand alone. Abstracts, which generally are short versions of journal articles, appear in two places: with the article in the periodical and as an independent unit provided by abstracting services (discussed in Chapter 5). There are two kinds of abstracts indicative and informative. Indicative abstracts list the sections of an article; informative abstracts briefly explain the article’s main point and the main support for that point. In practice, the terms abstract and summary are often used interchangeably. Many report writers’  as later chapters explain – put summaries first, before the body. The “executive summary,” a brief overview of the report, is commonly used in longer technical reports. Furthermore, the general goals of a summary and an informative abstract are the same  to present the main point or to give the gist of the contents.

Audiences for Summaries

Readers need summaries for various reasons:

• to find out the gist of the report or article without reading the entire document

• to discover if the report or article is relevant to their needs

• to get an overview before digesting the details

• to help them keep up with current developments in the field

• to decide whether to read the article

Researchers, for instance, often find only titles of periodical articles. To decide whether or not to read an entire article, they first read the abstract to see if the article is relevant to their needs. Many people, especially managers, busk often coworkers at any level, need a short version of a longer document because they don’t have the time or prefer not to read the longer document:”

How to Write Summaries

To write summaries, you need to understand basic summarizing strategies, two methods of organizing a summary, and details of form. Use Basic Summarizing Strategies To summarize effectively you must perform two separate activities.

• Read to find the main terms and concepts.

• Decide how much detail to include.

To read to find the main idea, you must look for various elements:

What are the main divisions of the document?

What are the key statements?

Which sentence tells the overall purpose of the document?

Which sentences tell the main ideas of each paragraph?

What details support main ideas?

What are the key terms? Which words ~e repeated or emphasized?

Consider the annotation of the article on pp. 110-111. Notice how the summarizes has indicated key sentences and terms. You might find this kind of reading and annotating difficult at first, but with practice you will become more confident of your ability to find the major divisions, main points, and main support in a document.

To decide how much detail to include, always consider your audience’s needs. If they need just a description of the document, you need to name only. main sections. If they need just basic facts, you might present only the report’s purpose and main findings. If they need to grasp the ideas well, you must provide support details. The general rule is to be as complete as your reader requires. By the end of a useful summary, a reader should understand the report’s purpose; the major findings, conclusions, or recommendations; and the major facts on which the findings are based.

Choose an Organization The two main strategies for organizing a summary are

• proportional reduction
• main point followed by support.

Proportional reduction means to devote as much space to each pint in the summary as is devoted to each section in the original. Suppose the original has four sections, three of which are the same length and one of which is much longer. Your summary of this piece will have the same proportions: three shorter sections all about the same length and a fourth longer section. You can make the overall summary shorter or longer, depending on how much detail you report for each section. A short summary will give the main point of each short section in just one sentence and will use two or three sentences for the longer section. A long summary might use three or four sentences for each short section – the main point and some support detail- and then six or eight sentences to explain the longer section. Schematically, the original and summaries would look like this:


Main point followed by support is the other method for summarizing. The main idea could be the purpose of the report, or the main findings, conclusions, or recommendations. This method is generally harder to write but is often n:tore effective for readers because you can slant the summary to meet the reader’s needs.

Use the Usual Summary Form The usual form of summaries has the following characteristics:

• length  words to 1 page (If the report is very long, the summary can be longer, a 200-page report might need 2 to 5 pages for a den I,

• verbs in the active voice and present tense

• a clear reference to the report (Generally writers put the title of the report either in the first sentence or in the summary’s title. If you summarize an article, Plosive the entire bibliographic entry.

• no terms, abbreviations, or symbols unfamiliar to the reader (Do not define terms in a summary unless definition was the main point of the document.)

• no evaluative comments such as In findings related tangentially at best to the facts she presents  “(Report the contents of the document without bias.)

• main points first (The first sentence usually gives the purpose of the report or the main findings, followed by support.)


Read the following article. Then review the abstract and two types of summaries on next summary topic




Dramatic, improved protection from electrostatic generation and uncontrolled discharge is reported for a new generation of anti-static foam packaging developed by The Dow Chemical Co. ‘Midland, Mich. The technology involves an dispersed non-migrating anti-static additive system that, because of its method of performance in the foam, is not dependent on relative humidity. Unlike other former anti-static additives that perform by migrating to the foam’s surface and attracting a moisture layer, this new additive is permanently fixed in the foam’s matrix and does not rely on humidity for its effectiveness.

Due to ,the different manner in which this anti-static additive performs, the foams are expected to have extremely long shelf life, in addition to providing excellent performance in low-humidity environments. Also, there is very low corrosion potential since moisture is not attracted from the atmosphere, and very low contamination since there is no chemical migration. Overall, the anti-static properties are said to be very consistent due to greater uniformity and permanence of additive concentration throughout the foam.


According to Dow, U.S. patents relative to this new technology have been applied for, and developmental products upon which it is based are scheduled for commercial introduction in the near future. Initial trials have been with polyurethane foams, and Dow cited two primary applications for it. One is for packaging of sub-assemblies and similar electronic components, in which op)mum static discharge protection is required because of common direct exposure of sensitive items to the packaging material. The other is cushion pack,pging for lightweight, electronic devices needing static-discharge protection. “The additive used in this foam will also allow us to make anti-static polyurethane products with unique density and IFD (indent force deflection) combinations,” said Jeff Lee, product marketing manager for Dow.


In addition to the new anti-static foams, Dow also announced “mobile labs” for testing package performance. The labs are available free upon request to computer and electronics companies seeking to test performance of proposed pack designs. They are staffed by Dow Technical Service and Development specialists and travel to sites in the West and Northeast from their bases in Walnut Creek, Calif. and Boston, Mass. The two mobile labs, which are contained in 24-foot converted recreational vehicles, contain equipment to analyze all aspects of package dynamics. (Packaging May 1986: 65)


“New Generation of Anti-Static Forms” (Packaging May 1986: 65).  (Bibliographic information) This article explains that Dow Chemical has anti-static foam packaging and mobile testing labs. (List of article’s contents)


“New Generation of Anti-Static Forms” (Packaging May 1986: 65). Dow Chemical has developed a new generation of anti-static Purpose additive that will dramatically improve foam packaging by cutting down electrostatic generation and uncontrolled discharge. The additive does not migrate to the foam’s surface and does (Part 1) not rely on humidity for effectiveness. is permanently fixed in the foam’s matrix. This additive should cause its packages (Part 2) to have longer shelf life, excellent performance in low-humidity situations, low corrosion potential and low contamination. Two (Part 3) primary applications lor the additive are polyethylene foam to package electronic components and to cushion lightweight electronic devices. Dow also has developed mobile labs, 24- (Part 4) loot converted RVs, available.free to companies wishing to test performance 01 package designs


“New Generation of Anti-Static Forms” (Packaging May 1986: 65). Dow Chemical has developed a new generation of anti-static adhesive that will dramatically improve foam packaging. Basically the additive eliminates dependence on relative humidity. Instead 01 migrating to the surface to form a moisture layer, fhe additive is permanently fixed in the matrix, Because it has greater uniformity throughout the foam, it will perform well in low-humidity environments, protect from corrosion and contamination, and increase shelf life. Dow says that the additive, whose patent is applied for, has been tested with polyurethane ‘foams to protect electronic components and to cushion lightweight electronic devices, It should allow users to make  force-deflection combinations. Dow has also developed mobile labs that will test package designs on site  for free.


Summarizing and Outlining

Summarizing and Outlining



In a world awash in information, the ability to construct and present concise, short versions of long documents is not only helpful but essential. The ability to or abstract the terms tire nearly synonymous  is basic to technical writers. You will often summarize your own documents, as this book explains in many chapters. But you will also need to summarize documents written by others. In addition, you must know how to outline both the material you read and the documents you intend to write. This chapter explains those skills.