The Outline and Its Structure

Substance of presentation given to class in Ad­vanced Bible Worker Methods, Theological Semi­nary, March, 1942.

Mayble A. HINKHOUSE, Office Editor, the Ministry

It is necessary for the minister, the teacher, the Bible worker, the writer, to be able to make a comprehensive outline before he gives a talk, a study, or a sermon? Yes ; otherwise he may experience the plight of the unprepared. Careful outlining is a great aid to unity, mak­ing for a closely knit, logical, connected pres­entation. An outline serves as a mechanical device, giving an orderly plan of the material to be used. It is a map or blueprint of what is to come. It indicates the order and manner of presentation, and reduces labor for both writer and reader.

Most material lends itself to division into three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion; or starting, developing, and accomplishing.

In the Introduction, or approach to a sub­ject, the speaker or writer should seek to arrest attention or arouse curiosity. Here he wins a welcome or loses it. Remember that the first ten words are more important than the next thousand, for if the attention is not held beyond the introduction, the effort is lost. The introduction should reveal the nature or pur­pose of the article or talk, and be suggestive of what is in store. It may state a problem or raise a question for explanation or discussion.

The Body, in which the theme is developed, is divided into divisions and subdivisions, into main and secondary lines of thought. These are arranged in proper sequence and relative importance by a series of symbols (letters and figures), with proper indention, to express co­ordination and subordination. Each series of steps is related logically, mechanically, caus­ally, or chronologically.

In regard to the conclusion, or appeal, bring your treatise to a natural, satisfying close, harmonious with the whole. Avoid abrupt endings, or one with a pessimistic, alarming note. Rather end in a positive, con­structive vein. The conclusion may be a sum­marizing statement or a brief recapitulation. It may make an application, draw an inference, or suggest action.

According to some authorities, the words "Introduction," "Body," and "Conclusion" should not be used in the outline itself. They advise substituting the contents of these parts of the composition for the terms mentioned.

However, there seems to be a difference of opinion on this. For practical purposes, the Ministry editors have found it helpful to include the terms "Introduction" and "Conclu­sion" at times in sermon outlines.

Some may find that "constructing an outline in reverse" is less difficult than constructing one before starting to write an article or sermon. By this I mean collecting all the ma­terial, writing each item on a card or separate slip of paper, and then arranging it all later into proper order, and building it into an out­line.

The question may arise in the minds of some regarding whether the texts of Scripture should be placed first or last in a line in the outline.

We have seen it done both ways, and do not know of any rule governing the practice. We would suggest that this be done according to individual choice or needs. If the texts are to be emphasized, perhaps they should come first. However, it may make a neater-looking outline to put them last.

Form of the Outline

There are several forms and styles of out­lining. All material does not need to be run through the same mold. The vertical, or serial, form is the simplest type. In this, the topic sentences of paragraphs constitute the outline, and are all listed one below the other, each co-ordinate with the other. The oblique outliue is a little more complicated, with more subdivisions, and requires more skill than the vertical. It is arranged as follows:

(See PDF)

Rules of Outline Structure

  1. Condense the material, arrange, number, and indent in a manner to show the logical relationship of the parts to each other, with orderly sequence of thought from one topic to the next, and from beginning to end. Use key words and phrases to suggest important ideas.
  2. Main headings (A, B, C, etc., or I, II, III, etc.) represent main divisions, important aspects, or distinct steps in the treatment of a subject. Use same indention from left-hand margin.
  3. Indent subordinate headings, covering the treatment of the main headings in detail, under the heading to which they are subordinate, each placed the same distance in from the margin, no matter how many lines. Indent subheads farther than main heads.
  4. When headings or notes run over one or more lines, begin second line even with first word of preceding line.
  5. Use parallel symbols to indicate ideas of equal importance.
  6. When outline is completed, glance down the line-up of the various main headings, the subordinate headings, and the subheadings, and see if alignment is correct, and if the headings are co-ordinate. Also check to see that each group is in balance, equality, and proportion.
  7. A single subheading cannot be justified. Subdivision involves division into at least two parts. No part should stand alone ; that is, there should not be an a without a b following it; nor a / without a 2. Join the single item to the preceding item, or omit it.

Those who desire further help on the outline and its structure will do well to review some standard college rhetoric. The book, "Compo­sition for College Students," by Thomas, Man­chester, and Scott, gives the following helpful summary on the benefits of outlining in writ­ing:

"The completed outline . . . gives the writer an opportunity to survey his composition as a whole in small compass, and to make adjust­ments and alterations that will be likely to save him much laborious revision. It enables him to test the logical relationships between his ideas, to discover omissions, to secure due proportion and symmetry, to omit irrelevant material, and to remove or correct apparent inconsistencies or contradictions."—Page 42.


Hall-Quest, "Supervised Study," pp. 166-194. Mac­millan, 1916.

Lorner and Ashmun, "Study and Practice of Writ­ing English," pp. 192-199. Mifflin, 1914.

Thomas, Manchester, and Scott, "Composition for College Students," pp. 39-47, 258. Macmillan, 1928.

Woods and Stratton, "Blue B.00k of Good Eng­lish," pp. 218-224. Doubleday, 1934-

Woolley and Scott, "Handbook of Composition," PP. 228-234. Heath, 1926.

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Mayble A. HINKHOUSE, Office Editor, the Ministry

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