U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Communication Skills, Report Writing, and Courtroom Testimony for Forensic Analysts

Creating an Extended Outline

Home  |  Glossary  |  Resources  |  Help  |  Contact Us  |  Course Map

The extended outline is a favorite of many introductory writing teachers. It requires authors to examine the logic of their arguments and to think through the details of their focal ideas. Such outlines necessitate consideration of the relative importance of the various components of papers and how each portion relates to the others.

Extended Outline
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The best starting point is to take the opening and closing determined during the previous step and put the takeaway somewhere in the middle. Starting at the beginning, authors might list supporting information in the order in which it should be presented until the major thesis is revealed. Make sure that each item builds on the earlier material and that it supports the content to follow. Once the takeaway is properly determined, the remainder of the text can be used to address possible objections, to provide additional supporting material in the form of examples, and/or to discuss unique and valuable applications.

Turning thoughts into prose

Once the outline is complete, the next stage involves taking the ideas embedded within this structure and turning them into headings, subheadings, and text. Typically, the headings flow easily from the outline, which is most likely a listing of general themes. The difficult part is using these few words to generate coherent sentences and paragraphs that properly present your information and major theses. As noted earlier, the dilemma is translating thoughts into words in a fashion (written) that is different from the way we usually articulate what is on our minds. This process is akin to speaking in a foreign language where an individual must take an idea that arises in a native language, translate it into a second or third language, and present it verbally using the right pronunciations. With time and practice our abilities improve, but we rarely reach the point where technical reports flow with an ease consistent with our desires.

A way of avoiding this dilemma is to use the proverbial "bullet points" that are somewhere between individual words and text. Their judicious use within a well-written paper can draw attention to important items, but their overuse may lead to burnout by readers who have a hard time ferreting out what is important within these endless lists. A better approach is to rely more heavily on cogent paragraphs to capture and transmit meaning. A good starting place is to take every subheading and write one or a series of short paragraphs that contain all the supporting material and position statements you would like to convey about that topical area. Write as the ideas come naturally, recognizing that their translation into "proper" grammar and structure can occur at a later stage. Make sure that each paragraph has a clear yet interrelated beginning and ending, with its unique contribution accurately portrayed and highlighted in the text.

Back Forward