Creating an Outline

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12396

Skeletons are very useful -- all of our body parts hang on them very nicely and in proper order. Outlines are like literary skeletons: They allow you to nicely organize and flesh out your thoughts!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Imagine you start writing a speech, essay, or report. As you begin writing, you can’t seem to figure out what you want to say or how to organize your ideas, forcing you to start over again and again.

  • What is an organizational tool you can use to determine what you will write about and how to organize your ideas?

The prewriting stage is the first step in the writing process.

During this step, you should choose a topic, research and gather ideas about your topic, and organize your information and ideas.

Before writing a speech, essay, or report, it is always a good idea to create an outline of your research and ideas. An outline will help you determine the main idea and supporting details for each paragraph in your writing. Outlining the main ideas and supporting details will make it easier for you to write and will prevent you from having to start over again and again, because you will already know what it is you intend to say and the order you intend to say it.

Keep in mind, an outline is different from a graphic organizer. Graphic organizers, which are also used in the prewriting stage, are used to brainstorm ideas and gather research about a topic. Outlines are used to select and organize the main ideas and supporting details you will use in your writing.

An outline should consist of three things:

  1. the topic of your writing
  2. the main ideas of each paragraph
  3. the supporting details for each paragraph

When creating an outline, you are not required to write in complete sentences. You can state each main idea or supporting detail with a short fragment or even a single word to describe the main idea.

The topic of the entire piece should be written at the top of the outline.

Each of the main ideas for the paragraphs should be written next to Roman numerals. Roman numerals are a way of writing numbers. You can see examples of the Roman numerals 1 through 10 in the image below. Practice writing each Roman numeral on a separate piece of paper. Typically, you need a minimum of three main ideas next to Roman numerals in an outline. The total number of main ideas will depend on the number of points you intend to make. Each main idea should be written on its own line.

Below each Roman numeral, you should have at least three details to support the main idea. Each supporting detail should be written next to a capital letter and should have its own line. Each time you begin writing the supporting details to accompany an idea, you start with the letter "A." Look at the outline below* and notice each of the three components. Discuss the following questions:

  • What type of writing do you think the outline will be used for?
  • What is the outline about?
  • What are the main ideas of the outline?
  • What supporting details are used with each main idea?
  • How will this outline make it easier for the writer to write a rough draft?

*Sightseeing in London

  1. Buckingham Palace
    1. Where the Queen lives
    2. The Union Jack flag is flown when she is home
    3. Big, white
  2. Big Ben
    1. Clock tower
    2. Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the tower
    3. 316 feet tall
  3. Westminster Abbey
    1. The place where the coronation takes place for English queens and kings
    2. 450 tombs and monuments inside for famous royals, artists, and scientists
    3. Built in 1042

This outline tells us the writer will most likely be writing an informative essay or report about historic sites in London, England. This outline will make it much easier for the writer to compose a rough draft because the outline helps the writer remember what the topic of each paragraph will be and what information they will include in each paragraph. Keep in mind, when the writer begins writing a rough draft, they will need to elaborate on each idea by adding more details and transforming their ideas into complete sentences.

Writing an outline is an important part of the prewriting stage in the writing process. It may take you a little extra time to write an outline, but it is well worth it. It will save you time in the long run by helping you know what you will say and how it will be organized in your paper.

Before moving onto the Got It? section to practice organizing an outline, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Have you ever created an outline to help you plan and organize your writing? If not, have you used any other organizational tools to plan and organize your writing? How does an outline compare to that organizational tool?
  • Why is an outline included in the prewriting stage in the writing process?
  • How can writing an outline help save you time?

Now, move on to the Got It? section to quiz yourself to see if you got it.

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