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.