What makes an outline "Formal"?
Informal or scratch outlines work quite well, but they are intended only for the person writing and using them. A formal outline is intended for others. A scribbled, informal recipe is fine for the cook, but when given to someone else to use, certain conventions are followed as seen in any cookbook. A formal outline also follows certain prescribed conventions.
The first convention prescribes how items are numbered or identified. If you think about it, there are only two ways to sequentially identify items that anyone familiar with our culture should be able to follow: numbers (1, 2, 3 . . . ) and letters (a, b, c . . . ). Letters can be further divided into capitals and lower case. Roman numerals are not as readily used by most people, but they serve as the equivalent of capital letters. The various levels in a formal outline alternate between numbers and letters starting with Roman numerals: I, A, 1, a.
The second convention simply prescribes that every item must have at least one corresponding, parallel item. The point of the outline is to show how support for the thesis is divided and organized. As a result every "division" must have at least two parts. If you have one major division represented by "I," you must have a second represented by "II." This holds true at all levels of the outline.
There are a few other considerations in presenting a formal outline. A formal outline should have a title. The thesis may be included, but the introduction and the conclusion are not. A typical outline might appear like the one below.
Thesis: The actual thesis statement may be placed just before the first part of the outline.
I. First major division
II. Second major division
III. Third major division
In a Topic Outline, the only complete
sentence would be the thesis if it were included.
In a Sentence Outline, every item would be a complete sentence. The two types should not be mixed.
A number of my courses link to this page.
Please, use your browser's "Back" button to return to your previous page.
Or go to the Composition Courses Home Page