The Power of the Outline: How to View It as an Empowering Ally, Rather Than a Constricting Nuisance

April 2004
by Robin Quinn

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In the course of a day, I use outlines in so many helpful ways that the practice has become second nature to me. Therefore I am always surprised by the alarm and resistance outlines can trigger in others. Recently I witnessed the outline-panic phenomenon once again during a discussion with a publisher about a new-product brochure. When I asked whether she had used an outline to create her rough draft, she reacted as if I’d just offered her a two-week vacation in hell!

Here are some ways to think positively about using outlines so you’ll be sure to get all the benefits they can bring you. As an outline ambassador, I ask that the skeptical read this piece with open minds. For those who are not outline resistant, my intent is to offer some new ideas and perspectives, as well as friendly reminders.

The Outline, Defined

To me, the best outlines are a quick take on something–whether it’s a chapter of a book, my plan for the day, or the structure of a presentation or meeting. Basically, an outline is an overview of your major points. It includes enough detail to be meaningful, but not so much that you get bogged down.

Working on the computer, I like to use a simple outline format with a hierarchy of three levels: numbers–1, 2, 3, etc.–for items in Level One; small letters–a, b, c, etc.–for items in Level Two; and numbers in parentheses–(1), (2), (3), etc.–for items in Level Three. I don’t a…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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