Outlines are an effective way to organize your ideas. They provide structure and direction, they organize your thoughts, and they free your mind to focus on one section at a time. Outlines are a key tool for any writer, and it’s good to know how to create them quickly.
You can normally use whatever outline structure suits you. The main thing is to differentiate between the various levels of organization. As an example, here’s an outline that uses a classic hierarchy:
Topic: A History of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
II. The Original 1994 Agreement
A. Key Figures
i. Reagan’s idea
ii. Mulroney’s support
a. Liberal and NDP opposition
iii. Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s contribution
B. Provisions and Exceptions
III. Later Additions
IV. Notable Disputes
V. Trump’s Protectionism
VI. The Future of NAFTA
As you can see, this is only a partial outline, as many of the sections can use further subdivision. It should nevertheless indicate how you can create a clear outline structure. In this case we’ve used letters and roman numerals, but you can use other formats too.
Tips for Effective Outlines
While an outline provides structure, it can easily remain static and disjointed. To make it come alive we suggest you do the following:
- Include a rough description of your thesis, so you can check if all your points relate back.
- Jot down some notes about how your sections connect to each other.
- Be ready to modify your outline so that your points flow logically
- Zoom in far enough that you have a sense of what examples and evidence you might use. If you have too much material you may need to add new points to your list.
- Format the list in a way that works for you (you can add colour, change the font type and size, modify the indentation, etc.)
- Ask a friend if the outline seems clear and interesting