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Writing a Formal Outline

Formal outlines are not required by most writing instructors. However, a formal outline can help writers refine ideas in the prewriting process by organizing key points of any serious writing into a clear, logical framework and by keeping writers from wandering off the topic. It serves as the blueprint of a to-be-finished product.  Most students find that producing a well-organized outline before they begin to compose will make the writing task easy.

There are two major types of outlines: formal topic outline and formal sentence outline.

The formal 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. However, the grammatical format must be consistent throughout the outline.

The formal 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 in terms of clarity, coherence, and flow. Remember to use complete sentences throughout a formal sentence outline.

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By Shou-ching Chao, Ph.D.