An outline presents the main ideas in a subject, lecture, or essay. It is like the skeleton that the information is built on. Outline note taking allows students who are listening to a lecture to record the main ideas, so they can remember what was said. Learning how to outline notes is a valuable skill for students. The outline note taking format makes it far easier to remember information presented in a lecture. Here are the basics of a note taking outline to help students to understand.

Roman Numerals

When using the outline method, note taking begins with a Roman numeral. The Roman numerals in the outline method of note taking are the main ideas of the discussion. Most lectures will have three to five of these main ideas. The first step in learning how to make an outline for notes is learning how to identify and record these main ideas.

Capital Letters

Underneath the Roman numerals, the next step in outline note taking is capital letters. These are the supporting ideas for the main ideas. For example, if the lecture is about types of animals, the first Roman numeral may be “mammals.” Under that, the capital letter points could be “canines,” “felines,” and “equines.” There can be an unlimited number of capital letters in a note taking outline, but all must be related to the main Roman numeral they are under in the outline.

Numbered Points

When learning how to outline notes, students need to understand that under the subheadings, there are also more subheadings, represented by numbered points. These provide further information about the capital letter point they are under. In the example about animals, the numbers under “equines” could be “horses,” “zebras,” and “donkeys.” In the outline note taking format, not all capital letters will have numbered points under them, but many will.

Lower Case Letters

Underneath the numbered points, some points may have further sub points. These are recorded using lower case letters. In learning how to make an outline for notes, students must learn how to distinguish which parts of a lecture are important to include as subheadings, and which are not. In the outline method of note taking, there are no right or wrong answers to this. If a student feels a point is worth remembering, it can be added to the outline through these various subheadings.

Further Subheadings

In the outline method, note taking is not limited by a certain number of subheadings. After the lowercase letters, the outline note taking format allows for even more subheadings, starting with lower case Roman numerals, then lower case letters in parenthesis, and lower case Roman numerals in parenthesis. For a typical class lecture, these further subheadings are not needed, but they are available if necessary. If a particular point is going into far too many subheadings, it may actually need to be broken into more than one point.

Basic Outlining Rules

In a note taking outline, the goal is flexibility. The student can learn how to take outline notes, and then use that basic understanding to create flexible outlines of lectures. However, in the outline method, note taking does have a few rules and guidelines. Understanding these outline note taking format guidelines will make the process much simpler.

One of the primary rules in the outline method of note taking is that all points must be in pairs. If an outline has an I, it must have an II. If a point has an A, it must have a B as well. This ensures that all of the points are thoroughly supported. If a student thinks a point needs a subheading, only to find there is only one subheading, then that information was probably part of the main point, not a subheading underneath it. A second rule is that each of the subheadings underneath a heading is indented slightly. This helps the outline have a visual appeal, making it easy to glance at the outline and see the logical flow of the ideas presented.

Outline note taking is a skill that takes practice, but it is a skill well worth learning. Once a student has learned how to outline notes, any lecture can be captured and taken home to study. This is why learning how to make an outline for notes is included in most high school and college programs. With this skill, students will be well equipped for their courses throughout their education.