AskDefine | Define outline

Dictionary Definition



1 the line that appears to bound an object [syn: lineation]
2 a sketchy summary of the main points of an argument or theory [syn: synopsis, abstract, precis]
3 a schematic or preliminary plan [syn: schema, scheme]


1 describe roughly or briefly or give the main points or summary of; "sketch the outline of the book"; "outline his ideas" [syn: sketch, adumbrate]
2 draw up an outline or sketch for something; "draft a speech" [syn: draft]
3 trace the shape of [syn: delineate, limn]

User Contributed Dictionary



out- + line



  1. A line marking the boundary of an object figure
  2. The shape of an object or figure
  3. A sketch or drawing in which objects are delineated in contours without shading
  4. A general description of some subject
  5. A statement summarizing the important points of a text
  6. A preliminary plan of a project
  7. italbrac film industry A prose telling of a story intended to be turned into a screenplay; generally longer and more detailed than a treatment.


line marking the boundary of an object figure
shape of an object or figure
sketch or drawing in which objects are delineated in contours without shading
general description of some subject
statement summarizing the important points of a text
preliminary plan of a project
(film industry) a prose telling of a story intended to be turned into a screenplay


  1. To draw an outline of something.
  2. To summarize something.


to draw an outline of something
to summarize something

Extensive Definition

An outline is a hierarchical way to display related items of text to graphically depict their relationships.
They are often used by students for research papers. Outlines provide a summary showing the logical flow of a paper. They are useful because they:
  1. help the writer organize their thoughts before getting bogged down in word choice and sentence structure;
  2. show which ideas need illustration or elaboration; and
  3. help the writer decide on an organizational technique for the report, whether it be logical, chronological, or categorical in nature.

Outlining reports

Textbooks generally recommend that, before constructing an outline, a writer should research the topic and take notes--preferably on index cards--as they go. The notes need not be more than a summary of what the author thinks is important. Each note card normally has a heading (called a slug) in the upper-left hand corner. Each slug later becomes a heading or subheading in the outline. The writer can later lay their cards on a table and group those that belong together. This creates a rough division of the topic. The writer may then put the cards in an order that approximates a final version.
Experts recommend that an outline have three to five main categories. If you have more than that, look for ways to combine smaller segments into broader topics. If you have only one subpoint, integrate it with the point above or reorganize. Also avoid overlapping between categories.

Alphanumeric outlines

An alphanumeric outline uses Roman numerals, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters, in that order. Each numeral or letter is followed by a period, and each item is capitalized:

Sample alphanumeric outline

Thesis statement: E-mail and internet monitoring; is it really an invasion of the employees' rights in the workplace?
I. Why do over 80% of today's companies monitor their employees?
A. To prevent fraudulent activities, theft, and other workplace related violations.
B. To more efficiently monitor employee productivity.
C. To prevent any legal liabilities due to harassing or offensive communications.
II. What are the employees privacy right’s when it comes to EM/S (Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance) in the workplace?
A. American employees have basically no legal protection from mean and snooping bosses.
1. There are no federal or State laws protecting employees
2. Employees may assert privacy protection for their own personal effects.
Note that each category above has at least two subcategories.
Some call the Roman numerals above a-heads, the capitalized letters, b-heads, and so on. Some writers also prefer to insert a blank line between the a-heads and b-heads (N.B. these people keep the b-heads and c-heads together, though).

Family Tree outline

Family Tree outlines are used to show people, their spouses and their children in chronological order.
1. Gregory CURIOUS
A. Patricia JONES (1st marriage)
1. Chloe CURIOUS
B. Katie HOGLEG (2nd marriage)
3. Jenny CURIOUS
A. Paul SMITH (1st marriage)
1. John SMITH
2. Jill SMITH
4. Vincent CURIOUS
Here you can see that Gregory had two wives (Patricia and Katie) and 4 children (Chloe, Lola, Jenny and Vincent) and you can see who he had each child with. You can also see his son-in-law (Paul Smith) and his 2 grandchildren who are Jenny's and Paul's. This is very useful in graphing descendents rather than ancestors.

Decimal outlines

The decimal outline format has the advantage of showing how every item at every level relates to the whole:

Sample decimal outline

Thesis statement: ---
1.0 Introduction
1.1 Brief history of Liz Claiborne
1.2 Corporate environment
2.0 Career opportunities
2.1 Operations management
2.1.1 Traffic
2.1.2 International trade and corporate customs
2.1.3 Distribution
. . . . . . . . .

Outlining stories

Outline is also a name for a prose telling of a story to be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes called a one page (one page synopsis, about 1 - 3 pages). It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis (1 - 2 paragraphs), but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. There are different ways to do these outlines and they vary in length.

Location outlines

Plot outlines

In comics, an outline--often pluralised as outlines--refers to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development.
The pencils will be very loose (i.e., the sketch rough), the main aim being to lay out the flow of panels across a page, ensure the story successfully builds suspense and to work out points of view, camera angles and character positions within panels. This can also be referred to as a plot outline or a layout.


  • Mary Ellen Guffey, "Organizing and Writing Business Messages," Business Communication: Process and Product, p. 160-161.
  • "Numbers: Lists and Outlines," Manual for Writers and Editors (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated: 1998), p. 103.
outline in Danish: Skitse
outline in German: Outline

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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