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Create a Reading Outline: Instructions

How to develop an outline from a reading assignment.


Why Create a Reading Outline

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Outlining your reading material is a beneficial method for demonstrating that you understand the material you have read. Additional a benefits of outlining your reading material include:

  • helps to develop a better understanding of the material you read by:
    • revealing the basic structure of the text;
    • distinguishing between main ideas and supporting ideas or examples;
  • improves your ability to remember what you have read;
  • provides a study guide for the material you have read.

Step 1: Read & Examine

  1. Read the entire text.
  2. Skim the text for an overview of the content's structure:
    • Title
    • Headings
    • Be able to answer the question: "What is the text talking about?"
  3. Locate the topic sentence of each paragraph.
  4. What are the key phrases used in each paragraph?
  5. What are the critical supporting details in each paragraph

resource iconStudy Tip: Use 3 different colored highlighters mark topic sentences, keyphrases, supporting details.

Color 1: Topic Sentences
Color 2: Key Phrases
Color 3: Supporting Details




Outlining in Google Docs

Steps 2: Evaluate

  1. Group topic sentences together by related ideas.
  2. Determine if supporting sentences describe a process or present an example.
  3. Decide which supporting details should be included in your outline. 

Best Practices

  1. Do not use the text's exact words when creating your outline. Use paraphrasing and summarizing to restate the topics and information. For help paraphrasing and summarizing, visit Integrating Sources into Your Paper.
  2. Use complete sentences for all entries in the outline.
  3. Review your outline by comparing it with the original text to insure that:
    • you followed the sequence of the reading;
    • no important information was missed.

Outlining in Microsoft Word

Step 3: Organize

  1. Arrange information according to levels.
  2. Logically organize information using Roman  numerals, capital letters, and arabic numerals to represent the hierarchy of the levels.

Level 1: Group Name (Subject Matter) of related Topic Sentences; label with Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, ...)

Level 2: Topic Sentences; label with capital letters (A, B, C, D, E, ...)

Level 3: Supporting details; label with Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ...)


Basic Hierarchy of a Reading Outline

example outline