Content outlines are an incredibly useful way to organize information. Whether it's for school, work or your own life, content outlines are used to help keep track of large amounts of information that are usually incorporated into an actual piece of writing. Outlines present ideas in a logical way, show relationships between ideas and define boundaries and groups. Outlines are useful for preparing research papers, essays and stories. Knowing how to create outlines is an essential part of any writer's skill set.

Creating a Content Outline

Step 1

Begin by gathering all your information in one place.
Begin by gathering all your information in one place.

Determine the topic of your outline and create a title to express it. Titles can be something like "The College Application Process" or "The Benefits of Being Outdoors." All outlines should begin with a topic sentence which summarizes the central idea of the paper. A topic sentence should be brief, specific and grammatically correct. It should also be a complete sentence. Below the title, write your topic sentence. For example, a topic sentence might read something along the lines of, "The process of applying to college can differ depending on where you apply but is generally a very similar process no matter where you go."

Step 2

Put key information on sticky notes or note cards to make it easier to organize.
Put key information on sticky notes or note cards to make it easier to organize.

Gather or generate the content you would like to organize. Collect brainstorming sheets, lists, packets of information, Powerpoint slides, references, bibliographies or anything that contains information you would like to include. Consider putting key information on note cards or sticky notes that can be rearranged or reordered while constructing the outline. This is a clean and effective way to organize information that doesn't involve repeated erasing and rewriting.

Step 3

Determine your target audience. Your purpose, as well as how much information to include and what level of complexity to write at, will depend on who you are writing for. For example, an outline for a children's book will probably have less information and use simpler language than an outline for a research paper. A businessman will write to increase sales; a student will write to express an opinion or to show knowledge about a subject. If you don't know who to write for, write for who you know. Words will come more easily after you imagine your audience.

Step 4

Put your content in a logical order. Your outline should begin with a provocative statement, a startling statistic, a relevant quote or an alluring description. The introduction should be followed by major supporting points that are each backed up by supporting evidence (such as examples, facts, statistics, quoted authorities, details or reasons). Put concluding material at the end. Consider the hierarchy and importance of information you are presenting and sub-categorize it as necessary. This is the part where having your information on note cards can really help.

Step 5

Format the information in proper outline form. Label each main idea with a Roman numeral, each subcategory with a capital letter and each subcategory under that with a number. Refer to an outline style guide for advice on labeling additional subcategories. Indent each level one increment more than the level above it; this will help the eye see the hierarchy of information more easily. Your outline should look roughly like this:

Title Topic Sentence

I. Introduction II. Body A. First Main Idea 1. Supporting Evidence 2. Supporting Evidence 3. Supporting Evidence B. Second Main Idea 1. Supporting Evidence 2. Supporting Evidence 3. Supporting Evidence III. Conclusion

Step 6

Add, subtract or rearrange information as you see fit. Use your final outline to write a paper, article, report or story. Outlines are also useful study tools for students enrolled in classes with heavy or dense workloads.