The Outline Note-Taking Method: Steps, Benefits, and When To Use

March 20, 2023

Looking for a super organized and easy way to take notes? 

Say hello to the outline note-taking method. 

The outline note-taking method is one of the best ways to break down big ideas into digestible pieces. 

Here’s how it works and when you should use it. 

How to use the outline note-taking method

Here are just 4 simple steps to start writing outline notes: 

  1. Write down a main point to the left of the page. 
  2. Indent to the right, and note any supporting ideas below it 
  3. Whenever you need to elaborate on a point, indent to the right and start adding new points below 
  4. Repeat 

In outline notes, supporting ideas are nested under the point it’s related to. You can keep going and create as many layers as you need or want. 

With this layout, you can easily see the hierarchy of ideas, and how information relates to each other. 

Benefits of the outline note-taking method  

What makes the outline method an effective note-taking technique? 

  • They’re highly structured, logical, and easy-to-follow
  • Visually, the nested points illustrate the hierarchy of ideas at-a-glance 
  • Easy to create. There’s no set up required or any special template needed 

Read more: Check out our guide to Study Strategies.

When should you use the outline method? 

The outline method is well-suited for topics that would usually use a lot of words (over visuals or equations) to explain. It helps break down big ideas logically. 

Read more: Check out our guide to Digital Planner stickers.

1. Planning a presentation, project, or essay 

The structured nature of the outline method really shines when it comes to planning. You have all your main ideas along with their supporting facts all laid out. Your essay practically writes itself. 

Tip: For tasks or projects, list your goals as main points along with tasks and subtasks underneath.

2. Creating summaries or recaps 

Whenever you want to summarize some information (like after reading an article or attending a talk or lecture) use the outline method. The outline method will force you to identify the main points of the content, helping you to break down and understand the material better. 

3. When you need to jot down information quickly 

When it comes to taking notes while listening (to lectures or during meetings, etc), it can be too easy to write an unending, unorganized list of bullet points. Instead, use the outline method to introduce hierarchy to your notes. In this way, main ideas jump out first. 

When you shouldn’t use the outline method 

Because it’s so structured, if you’re taking notes that require diagrams, visuals, or charts, the outline method won’t be the best choice. 

The outline method is best for notes that are primarily written linearly using full sentences.

Tips to write better outline notes

  1. Use point form. Be brief. The beauty of the outline method is that you don’t come across large blocks of text, and everything is skimmable. 
  2. Make connections. Draw lines or arrows between connecting thoughts from different subtopics. Annotate the free space to add observations or other supplementary information 
  3. Use lined paper with margins. When you write your outline notes, leave the margin blank. That way, if you have thoughts or ideas you want to add in afterwards, you have the space to do so within the margin. 

Get organized with outline notes 

The outline note-taking method is the easiest way to organize big ideas into digestible notes. 

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