It Takes Two

by Cherie Tucker

December 2014

A couple of years ago we talked about outlines, and the main thing you were to remember was that you had to have two points to subdivide anything. For every 1 there must be a 2, and for every A there must be a B. Everyone should know that, but I’m discovering that apparently the message didn’t get around much, so here we go again.

If you said, “First, we have to go to the store,” your listener would then wait for whatever is “second.” You have set that poor person up to wait expectantly for what you have promised will follow. Surely there is more, or you wouldn’t have started a list with “First.” Everyone knows that.

The same expectation happens when you are writing. When you put the number 1 on its very own line, everyone looks for number 2 on the next line. So let’s review how this works:

I. Outlines start with Roman numerals, especially if they are long.

A. Letters come under whatever number you have started with.

B. They begin with A, and there MUST BE a B.

II. You may begin with regular numbers if you don’t want Roman numerals.

Here’s how it would look if you start with regular numbers or letters:

1. Here’s your point. A. Here’s how it looks with letters.

2. Here’s the next thing. 1. First comment.

a. Here is the first comment. 2. Second comment.

b. Here is the next comment. B. Here’s where you put the B! 

Notice, please, that numbers follow letters, and letters follow numbers. There must be contrast for the indentations to make sense.

There is one more thing to remember, and that involves bullet points.

  • You must ALWAYS have at least two bullet points.

  • You may NEVER have just one.

  • Ever.

This outline business will not be hard when you remember that having at least two points is mandatory; otherwise there is no need to subdivide. Now everyone knows that.


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.

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