Sometimes when you read, an overload of information gets tangled in your mind. You might remember what the topic of the report was, but if you can't remember what came where and for what purpose, it doesn't do much good. In situations like these, making a summary outline can be a lifesaver. A summary outline is an efficient way to familiarize yourself with a paper's main purpose and flow and to organize all its relevant information in a clear, logical format so its there at a glance anytime you need it. The time and frustration it saves makes it invaluable.

Read the material to be outlined as many times as necessary until you really understand it.

Break the material down into its essential components, and give each component a Roman numeral. If you are summarizing a research paper, find background, arguments and findings. If a literary work, make Roman numerals for author, genre, historical context and content.

Make subheadings for the most important points within the broad categories with Latin/English letters. For example, if Roman numeral I. is "Purpose," A and B could be the expressly stated objectives of the report. If you have an "A," you must have a "B." This is true only of "A" and "B;" a "C" does not need a "D." If there is no "B" for a Roman numeral, skip this step.

Summarize information germane to each subheading using bullet points. If "I." is "Purpose" and "A" is "To find microorganisms in pond water," bullet points might summarize hypotheses and methods used to conduct research. If "I." is "Genre" and "A." is "Detective Fiction," bullet points might summarize trends in detective fiction at the time.

Continue this process until every relevant point in the document is summarized in a clear, concise way.


  • The outline should be as short, simple and concise as possible.

  • Keep the focus on conclusions rather than details.