<firstimage=”//cdn.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/msword.gif” />From my limited experience as a freelance writer, I know that the second most effective remedy for writer’s block is to create outlines. The first is taking a long walk. But of course, that won’t be a great idea for a tech related post. So, let’s talk about the importance of creating outlines before starting a creative project.
Call an outline a brief sketch or a schema of the main points and you won’t be off the mark. A rough idea of where you are going to go is important for every kind of project, from organizing your life to organizing your next writing assignment.
Whether the point where you create outlines should come before or after research is debatable. In my opinion, an outline should serve to organize the research data. Even as we begin organizing all the data, an outline will tell us if we have all the gaps filled in or if we need to do something more. In effect, an outline logically shows us the path from the beginning to the end (and the curves in between).
When you create outlines, it also helps to shape web writing, as web content ideally is about scannable content with bulleted points and headlined sections.
To create outlines is actually easy. It starts with a bit of brainstorming and then you can reach for some paper or MS Word. MS Word is the processor of choice for documents and creating effective outlines is just one of its more mundane jobs. So here’s one more MS Word How-to“¦
Open A New Word Document & Create Outlines In 5 Easy Steps
- MS Word 2007 has a special view called Outline that makes the task almost child’s play. Click on the View tab and then select Outline from the Document Views panel. Here you have all the commands to manage your document outlines.
- The new document has a bullet with a minus symbol. This is the marker for the first heading. Type it in and press enter. Enter other headings similarly. The headings define the main sections of the document.
- You can write the headings spontaneously. The little up and down arrows on the ribbon allows you to change the order and organize the headings. You can also drag and drop to change the order or to move the text right or left.
- A document has many levels of detail. To elaborate on the headings, keep adding ideas with the same steps of type and enter. Any heading created can be converted into a subheading. Place your cursor in the sentence you want to make into a subheading and click on the Demote arrow on the Outlining toolbar. It marks down the selected text in relation to the one above it.
Similarly, you can take a subheading one level up by clicking the Promote button on the Outlining toolbar.
- Using the demote button, a multi-level outline can thus be created in a flash. The lowest level of the outline is the body text. For instance, body text can be written as ideas for dialog or sentences that you want to include under the subheadings. For body text, create a heading or a subheading and then click the double headed arrow (Demote to Body Text). The Promote to Heading 1 on the other side does the exact reverse.
Want To Improve The Look Of Your Outline?
Click on the Home tab and then the Styles panel. For instance, if you want to change the appearance of the main headings, right click on Heading 1 and click Modify to set your own formatting style.
Main topics are formatted in Heading 1, subtopics in Heading 2, and so it continues. You can choose to keep the style by adding it to the Quick Style list.
To change the look of the entire outline, click on Change Styles and pick one from the available Style Sets.
Take A Printout
While brainstorming, it often helps to stand back and look at the ideas from a distance. A printout helps to keep the outlines close at hand. In MS Word, printing outlines works just like a normal print job, but with one tiny difference. You can collapse or expand the headings and subheadings to set the print view you want. After that, it’s all the same.
Or Use It In PowerPoint Too
Outlines can be easily exported to PowerPoint. Each main heading level goes as the heading of a separate slide. The easier way is to save the outline document and then open it from PowerPoint’s New Slide – Slides from Outline.
The second way is to use the Send to PowerPoint command which can be accessed from Word Options – Customize – All Commands and placed in the Quick Access Toolbar.
Well, now that I have outlined and elaborated the steps, here’s a resource that can come in handy – Microsoft’s 18 Outline templates as free downloads.
How often do you use the outlining habit for your documents and presentations? Do you think “˜prefabrication’ of your work is a quicker way from brainstorming to the finished project?
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Outlining Your Paper Using Microsoft Word
If you start writing your paper by typing your outline into Microsoft Word, finishing your first draft is just a matter of filling in that outline. To begin, create a new file.
After creating a new blank document, select the "View" menu.
Under the "View" menu, select "Outline."
You will see the following menu bar.
Type your first outline entry (a main heading), making sure the computer knows you are typing in a Level 1 (a main) heading. Typically, your first heading (I. in a traditional outline) would be "Introduction."
Next, you could type your next entry (the first entry under I.; your "I.A". entry in a typical outline)
Note that MS Word does not know that your second entry is a subheading (So, if you only have ideas for your main headings--or if you just prefer typing in your main headings first, you can do that). To let MS Word know that you want your second entry to be under "Introduction," you can either click on the "tab" key to move the entry over or you can use the green right arrow to indent the entry (see picture below).
Note that you can tell that your subheading is below the heading because (a) the subheading is indented farther than the heading, and (b) the heading has a "+" sign indicating that there is at least one entry under it. ,
If the next entry goes under the subtopic (e.g., I.A.1 in a conventional outline), you can hit the tab key or the right green arrow key.
To add more entries at the same outline level (in our example, to follow I.A.1 with I.A.2 and I. A. 3.), just hit the "return" key after each entry.
If a new entry represents a more important heading, you can easily move it. Thus, to move "My paper will ..."
We highlight the text and then click the left green arrow.
We can see that "My paper..." is at the same level as "Three research designs ..." because the "-" sign for "My paper ..." is right under the ("+") sign for "Three research designs ... ." To know exactly what level a heading is, you can highlight the heading and look in the box between the green arrows.
Thus, to move the body over so it is a main ("Level 1") heading, you first highlight it. Then, you click the left green arrow.
Word dutifully moves the text over and notes that the text is now a "Level 1" heading.
To move entries under "Body," you have three choices: (a) hit the "tab" key, (b) hit the green right arrow key, or (c) choose a lower level heading (in this case, "Level 2") from the "Level" box located between the left and right green arrows.
If you want to switch from outlining to writing parts of your paper, first click on the "View" menu.
Then, select "Normal."Note that to go back to outlining, you would return to the "View" menu and select "Outline."
Now, just put your cursor right after the place where you want to add text, click "return," and start typing.
As you work on your paper, you will change some of your headings. For example, you will not have the heading "Introduction" in your final paper. Instead, you will probably replace it with the title of your paper.
You will also probably get rid of some of your subheadings--especially the ones in the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" sections of a term paper--and you will want to eliminate or replace the "Body" heading.
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