How To Write an Outline, Paraphrase & Summary


   An outline is a plan to follow when writing a composition, a speech, or a report. It organizes material in a logical way into main ideas, supporting ideas, and supporting details.

   When you are ready to turn your ideas into an outline, remember that each main idea or topic becomes a main topic of the outline. All main topics will be indicated by roman numerals. Subtopics will noted by letters, and supporting details will be indicated by Arabic Numerals. 

    Decide whether to write a sentence outline or a topic outline. A sentence outline is written in full sentences. A topic outline is in words or phrases. 

Follow the guidelines below for writing an outline.
  1.  Center the title above the outline.
  2.  Every level of the outline must have at least two items (I and II, A and B, 1 and 2).
  3.  Put a period after each numeral and letter.
  4. Indent each new level of the outline.
  5. All items of one kind (Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals) should line up with each other. 
  6. Capitalize the first word of each item.
  7. The terms Introduction, Body, and Conclusion do not have to be included in the outline. They are not topics; they are merely organizational units in the writer's mind. 
    Study the sample topic outline below. Notice how it conforms to the rules in the chart above. All topic or sentence outlines have exactly the same structure. They follow the same pattern for lettering, numbering, and indenting. Here is a model topic outline. 

Benjamin Franklin - Scientist and Inventor

 I.   Experiments with electricity 
      A. Studied nature of electricity 
      B. Discovered lightning equals electricity 
      C. Invented lightning rod 

 II.  Other scientific work 
      A. Inventions 
           1.  Bifocal glasses 
           2.  Franklin stove 
           3.  Daylight saving time

      B. Scientific studies
           1. Charted Gulf Stream
           2. Worked on soil improvement

 III. Importance as a scientist
      A. Scientific honors
      B. Writings translated into other languages
      C. Experts' comments

Refer to the same topic outline above to write the answers to the following questions. 
  1. How many main topics are there?
  2. How many subtopics does the last main topic have? 
  3. Which main topic has both subtopics and details? 
  4. How many details are included under the subtopic "Inventions"?
  5. Which is the title of the report?


    To paraphrase is to state the written material you have read in your own words and in your style of writing. A paraphrase is more likely to be longer in length the the original text. 

When attempting a paraphrase, the following strategies might be of some help. 
  • Read the original text as many times as you need to understand all the ideas included.
  • Write these ideas in your own language. 
  • Mention the source from which you have taken these ideas.
  • Compare your paraphrase with the original text. 
  • Modify and edit to make sure your paraphrase is similar to the original text. 
   Native Americans were applying advanced planting techniques to corn long before Europeans traveled to the Americas. It was Squanto, a native American, who managed to increase corn production by 200 percent by using fish as fertilizer.   

Notice how the following paraphrase compares with the original above. 

    The writer of the above text believes that advanced planting techniques were known to native Americans long before the Europeans settled in the Americas. A well-known native American, Squanto, thought of using fish as fertilizer to multiply corn production. 


     A summary is a short statement that gives the most important information about a topic. To write a good summary, you need to consider all the information and decide what the main ideas are. You write only the most important ideas in as few words as possible. 

When attempting a summary, the following strategies might be of some help. 
  • Read the original text as many times as you need to understand all the ideas included. 
  • Identify the main idea as it indicates the most important information. 
  • Write the main idea in your own language.
  • Begin your summary by mentioning the source of the original text. 
  • Compare your summary with the original text. 
     Howard Carter did not enter the tomb right away. First, he sent a telegram to Lord Carnarvon, asking his friend to come quickly. If it really turned out to be the tomb of Tutankhamen, he did not want Carnarvon to miss the moment of opening it. 

One possible summary could be the following:

   The writer of the above text stated that Carter telegraphed Carnarvon to come for the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen, and then he waited for his friend's arrival. 

   When you state the main idea of a paragraph, you are really summarizing the paragraph. Sometimes you may be asked to summarize something longer than a paragraph - say a text. You can go about it in the same way that you go about summarizing a paragraph. 

Read the following paragraph, and then choose the best summary.

   Some authorities say that the only true pyramids are the ons built in Egypt. These solid structures have a square or a rectangular base, smooth sloping sides, and a pointed top. The Egyptian pyramids were designed as burial places for the pharaohs. However, elsewhere in the world, pyramid like structures were built. These pyramids were often as temples or building for astronomical studies. Notable examples are the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and many others scattered around the world. 
  1. The most famous true pyramids are the ones in Egypt.
  2. Pyramids were built in many parts of the ancient world. 
  3. Although some authorities say the only true are Egyptian, pyramid like structures were built in other places.