Think of your outline as a living document that grows and takes form throughout your composition process. When you first draft your general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement, you could create a new document on your computer and plug those in, essentially starting your outline. As you review your research and distill the information down into separate central ideas that support your specific purpose and thesis, type those statements into the document. Once you’ve chosen your organizational pattern and are ready to incorporate supporting material, you can quote and paraphrase your supporting material along with the bibliographic information needed for your verbal citations into the document. By this point, you have a good working outline, and you can easily cut and paste information to move it around and see how it fits into the main points, subpoints, and sub-subpoints. As your outline continues to take shape, follow established principles of outlining to ensure a quality speech/ presentation.
Again, if you wrote a very good Research Report for COMM 6019, you may be able to use the outline of the report (or of one of its main sections) as your outline for the presentation. However, at work, you will often have to prepare a presentation without having a fully developed document already prepared in advance. How should you prepare a formal outline in that case?
The Formal Outline
The formal outline is a full-sentence outline that helps you prepare for your speech/ presentation. It includes the introduction and conclusion, the main content of the body, key supporting materials, citation information written into the sentences in the outline, and a references page for your speech. The formal outline also includes a title, the general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement. It’s important to note that an outline is different from a script. While a script contains everything that will be said, an outline includes the main content. Therefore you shouldn’t include every word you’re going to say on your outline. This allows you more freedom as a speaker to adapt to your audience during your speech. Students sometimes complain about having to outline speeches or papers, but it is a skill that will help you in other contexts. Being able to break a topic down into logical divisions and then connect the information together will prepare you for complicated tasks, as well as for routine meetings or interviews.
Principles of Outlining
Outlining should follow principles of consistency, unity, coherence, and emphasis.
Consistency: Follow a standard outlining format, with the main points indicated by capital roman numerals, subpoints indicated by capital letters, and sub-subpoints by Arabic numerals. Further divisions are indicated by either lowercase letters or lowercase roman numerals. Another way to number sections would be by using arab numerals throughout, with the subsections of section 1numbered as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. and sub-subsections as 1.1.1, 1.1.2, etc.
Unity: Make sure that each body section contains one main idea, each subsection contains one subpoint, etc. If you find that one subpoint consists of more than one idea, you can divide it into two subpoints. Limiting each component of your outline to one idea makes it easier to then plug in supporting material and helps ensure that your speech/ presentation is coherent. In the following example from a speech arguing that downloading music from peer-to-peer sites should be legal, two ideas are presented as part of a main point.
- Downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs helps market new music and does not hurt record sales.
The main point could be broken up into two distinct ideas that can be more fully supported.
- Downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs helps market new music.
- Downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs does not hurt record sales.
Coherence: There should be a logical and natural flow of ideas in your speech/ presentation, with main points, subpoints, and sub-subpoints connecting to each other. Shorter phrases and keywords can make up the speaking outline, but you should write complete sentences throughout your formal outline to ensure coherence. The principle of coherence can also be met by making sure that, when dividing a main point or subpoint, you include at least two subdivisions. If you can easily think of one subpoint but are having difficulty identifying another one, that subpoint may not be robust enough to stand on its own. Determining which ideas are coordinate with each other and which are subordinate to each other will help divide supporting information into the outline. Coordinate points are on the same level of importance in relation to the thesis or to the central idea of a main point. In the following example, the two main points (I, II) are coordinate with each other. The two subpoints (A, B) are also coordinate with each other. Subordinate points provide evidence or support for a main idea or thesis. In the following example, subpoint A and subpoint B are subordinate to main point II. You can look for specific words to help you determine any errors in distinguishing coordinate and subordinate points. Your points/subpoints are likely coordiate when you would connect the two statements using any of the following: and, but, yet, or, or also. In the example, the word also appears in B, which connects it, as a coordinate point, to A. The points/subpoints are likely subordinate if you would connect them using the following: since, because, in order that, to explain, or to illustrate. In the example, 1 and 2 are subordinate to A because they support that sentence.
I. Downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs helps market new music.
II. Downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs doesn’t hurt record sales.
A. John Borland, writing for CNET.com in 2004, cited research conducted by professors from Harvard and the University of North Carolina that observed 1.75 million downloads from two file-sharing programs.
- They conclude that the rapid increase in music downloading over the past few years does not significantly contribute to declining record sales.
- Their research even suggests that the practice of downloading music may even have a “slight positive effect on the sales of the top albums.”
B. A 2010 Government Accountability Office Report also states that sampling “pirated” goods could lead consumers to buy the “legitimate” goods.
Emphasis: The material included in your outline should be engaging and balanced. As you place supporting material into your outline, choose the information that will have the most impact on your audience. Choose information that is proxemic and relevant, meaning that it can be easily related to the audience’s lives because it matches their interests or ties into current events or the local area. Remember primacy and recency as discussed earlier and place the most engaging information first or last in a main point depending on what kind of effect you want to have. Also make sure your information is balanced. The outline serves as a useful visual representation of the proportions of your speech/ presentation. You can tell by the amount of space a main point, subpoint, or sub-subpoint takes up in relation to other points of the same level whether or not your speech/ presentation is balanced. If one subpoint is a half a page, but a main point is only a quarter of a page, then you may want to consider making the subpoint a main point. Each part of your speech doesn’t have to be equal. The first or last point may be more substantial than a middle point if you are following primacy or recency, but overall the speech should be relatively balanced.
The Speaking Outline
The formal outline is a full-sentence outline that helps as you prepare for your speech, and the speaking outline is a keyword and phrase outline that helps you deliver your speech. While the formal outline is important to ensure that your content is coherent and your ideas are balanced and expressed clearly, the speaking outline helps you get that information out to the audience. Make sure you budget time in your speech preparation to work on the speaking outline. Skimping on the speaking outline will show in your delivery.
You may convert your formal outline into a speaking outline using a computer program — by resaving the file and then reformatting the text so it’s more conducive to referencing while actually speaking to an audience. You may also choose, or be asked to, create a speaking outline on note cards. Note cards are a good option when you want to have more freedom to gesture or know you won’t have a lectern on which to place notes printed on full sheets of paper. In either case, this entails converting the full-sentence outline to a keyword or key-phrase outline.
Speakers will need to find a balance between having too much or too little content on their speaking outlines. You want to have enough information to prevent fluency hiccups as you stop to mentally retrieve information, but you don’t want to have so much information that you read your speech, which lessens your eye contact and engagement with the audience. Budgeting sufficient time to work on your speaking outline will allow you to practice your speech with different amounts of notes to find what works best for you. Since the introduction and conclusion are so important, it may be useful to include notes to ensure that you remember to accomplish all the objectives of each.
Aside from including important content on your speaking outline, you may want to include speaking cues. Speaking cues are reminders designed to help your delivery. You may write “(PAUSE)” before and after your preview statement to help you remember that important nonverbal signpost, or “(MAKE EYE CONTACT)” as a reminder not to read unnecessarily from your cards.
Writing for Speaking
As you compose your outlines, write in a natural tone that is appropriate for the expectations of the occasion. Since we naturally speak with contractions, write them into your formal and speaking outlines. You should begin to read your speech aloud as you are writing the formal outline. As you read each section aloud, take note of places where you had difficulty saying a word or phrase or had a fluency hiccup, then go back to those places and edit them to make them easier for you to say. This will make you more comfortable with the words in front of you while you are speaking, which will improve your verbal and nonverbal delivery.
- The 4 × 6 inch index cards provide more space and are easier to hold and move than 3.5 × 5 inch cards.
- Find a balance between having so much information on your cards that you are tempted to read from them and so little information that you have fluency hiccups and verbal fillers while trying to remember what to say.
- Use bullet points on the left-hand side rather than writing in paragraph form, so your eye can easily catch where you need to pick back up after you’ve made eye contact with the audience. Skipping a line between bullet points may also help.
- Include all parts of the introduction/conclusion and signposts for backup.
- Include key supporting material and wording for verbal citations.
- Write only on the front of your cards.
- Do not have a sentence that carries over from one card to the next (can lead to fluency hiccups).
- If you have difficult-to-read handwriting, you may type your speech and tape or glue it to your cards. Use a font that’s large enough for you to see and be neat with the glue or tape so your cards don’t get stuck together.
- Include cues that will help with your delivery. Highlight transitions, verbal citations, or other important information. Include reminders to pause, slow down, breathe, or make eye contact.
- Your cards should be an extension of your body, not something to play with. Don’t wiggle, wring, flip through, or slap your note cards.
- The formal outline is a full-sentence outline that helps you prepare for your speech/presentation and includes the introduction and conclusion, the main content of the body, citation information written into the sentences of the outline, and a references page.
- The principles of outlining include consistency, unity, coherence, and emphasis.
- Coordinate points in an outline are on the same level of importance in relation to the thesis of the speech or the central idea of a main point. Subordinate points provide evidence for a main idea or thesis.
- The speaking outline is a keyword and phrase outline that helps you deliver your speech and can include speaking cues like “pause,” “make eye contact,” and so on.
- Write your speech in a manner conducive to speaking. Use contractions, familiar words, and phrases that are easy for you to articulate. Reading your speech aloud as you write it can help you identify places that may need revision to help you more effectively deliver your speech.
- What are some practical uses for outlining outside of this class? Which of the principles of outlining do you think would be most important in the workplace and why?
- Identify which pieces of information you may use in your speech are coordinate with each other and subordinate.
- Read aloud what you’ve written of your speech/ presentation and identify places that can be reworded to make it easier for you to deliver.