An outline is the ordered listing of subject matter contained in a paper or assignment. It is commonly ordered using Roman numerals, capital letters from the English alphabet, Arabic numbers and lowercase letters. Each label is used for a different part of the paper, including the overall sections of the assignment, the main topics, the subtopics and any details under those subtopics.

Outlining for Prewriting

Outlines organize the information contained within a paper, assignment, presentation or other scholarly work. In the prewriting stage, after research has been conducted, making an outline helps the writer organize the information into a usable format. When ordering research findings, details are listed under subtopics, which are listed under the main topics. The main topics are ordered underneath each section of the paper, including the introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion.

Offering a Preview

An outline also serves the purpose of identifying the main points for writing a brief summary of the paper, also called an abstract. This section of the paper is included at the beginning of a research paper and allows the reader to make an informed decision on whether to keep reading the remainder of your work. The main points of the outline serve as the main points of the abstract.

Presentation Notes

Students and orators find that using an outline assists their presentations and keeps them on track. While speaking, students and orators may stray from their main ideas. An outline in lieu of note cards helps the presenter achieve his goals in a timely manner and promotes a more efficient and informative presentation. An outline may also assist first-time speakers in remembering the next subject of the presentation during an incident of stage fright.

Showing Your Work

In upper elementary, middle and early high school grade levels, students are often asked to submit their outlines to be graded as homework or as part of the process of writing a paper or presentation. Teachers can see proof that each student is capable of organizing his thoughts and subject matter logically and using details and subtopics appropriately.