Directions for Outlining a Textbook Chapter

Create your own quick study guide by learning to outline a textbook chapter. You will be surprised at how much you learn by capturing the main points of the text in a simple outline. Outlining a textbook chapter is not just copying down the first sentence of every paragraph or every heading. A good outline demonstrates understanding of the material and an ability to identify and summarize its main points. If you are outlining for a class assignment, follow any assignment instructions first; some teachers prefer outlines with sentences while others want outlines with keywords and topics only. If you are outlining for yourself, follow whatever style best fits the purpose of the outline as well as what style will be most useful in helping you remember the material.

Reading is Key

Skim the textbook chapter for a few minutes, looking at the headings and any bold or italic words. Next, read the chapter thoroughly. Don’t start writing your outline yet, but write notes in the margin to capture interesting points or page numbers, as you go. Having a basic idea of the chapter content and keywords will help you follow the structure of the chapter better and prepare you for outlining.

Outline Format

Begin your outline. Many textbook chapters have introductory paragraphs that give a good outline for the chapter. For example, in a history textbook, a chapter introduction may say it will discuss the lead up to the Vietnam War, the war itself and the aftermath. For the Vietnam War chapter, you might choose three main headings: Before the War, During the War and After the War. Adhere to the outline format. Outlines typically have several different levels; one of the most common formats has heading titles preceded by I, II, III. Subheadings begin with capital letter headings, followed by Arabic numeral headings (1, 2, 3), followed by lowercase Roman numeral headings (i, ii, iii). Label each level of heading and content with both a number or letter and a title, key word, or sentence, and indent each successive level of headings more than the previous level. Use the structure your instructor prefers, if given.

Capture Main Points

Search for the main ideas and subjects as you re-read the chapter and write your outline. Under each main heading, add subheadings that elaborate on the subject, giving additional facts and details. For the Vietnam War, you might have subheadings with key facts about the effects of the American draft on American society and significant events, such as the Tet Offensive. Ideas that are part of a main idea should be indented and labeled as a subheading of that idea.

Final Step

Skim the chapter once more when you have finished re-reading the chapter and constructing your outline to check that you have not missed any important information.