by Cherie Tucker
Lately I’ve received numerous agendas or minutes from meetings, and they are written in the strangest formats. I think we’d better review how to outline.
Remember, you must have at least two things in order to subdivide, or there is no need for an outline. If you find yourself with a single supporting point, combine it into the main point or discover a second point. It makes no sense to say, “First,” and then have no “Second.” For every 1 there must be a 2, every A requires a B, and every bullet must have another bullet. It’s the law.
The indented order goes like this:
I. Start your first point with a Roman numeral.
A. Begin supporting points with capital letters.
B. Be sure to have two supporting points.
1. You start these with Arabic numerals.
2. You must have at least two of these as well.
a. Here is where you explain #2.
b. These explanations begin with lower case letters.
(1) If you must go here, use Arabic numerals in parentheses.
(2) Note that there are no periods here, unlike the preceding.
(a) If you are here, use lower case letters in parentheses, no periods.
(b) Now stop yourself and write this in a paragraph.
(c) This far down makes people crazy!
II. This is the required second point.
III. Note that the second point has no subdivisions.
A. That is fine.
B. You don’t have to subdivide every point.
IV. Remember these things about outlining.
A. Keep all your points in parallel construction.
1. Each point should be in the same format.
2. Use all sentences or all phrases.
B. Begin with any letter or number.
1. You don’t have to start with Roman numerals.
a. They allow for the most subdivisions without parentheses.
b. See I., B., 2. b., (2), (c) above.
2. Follow numbers with letters, letters with numbers.
C. Align the second line of a continued point.
D. Align the decimals following double-digit numbers.
1. Your computer may not let you.
2. Fight it.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com