Lesson 6 Preparing an Outline

no matter what type of speech you make, regardless of the occasion, and no matter how you deliver it—you will want to start with an outline! The outline is the skeleton on which you will build a living speech, and it will determine exactly what that speech will look like and what it will accomplish.

There are several important things that you’ll gain by creating a preliminary outline. First, you’ll discover what you know—and what you don’t know. A person never knows how much he or she knows until he or she tries to explain it to someone else. You won’t know how much knowledge you really have about your topic until you sit down and outline a speech on that topic.

Another beneft of outlining is that it enables you to accomplish your goal. If you’re making a persuasive speech, the outline will force you to specify what your sub-points are (the evidence that proves your thesis), what examples you’ll provide for each sub-point, how the sub-points prove your thesis, and so forth.



–PreParing an outline–

You probably would not dream of getting up at the podium on the day of your speech and just making it up as you go along; that would lead to disaster, and you would fail to accomplish whatever goal you were trying to achieve. Yet the same principle holds true if you sit down to write a speech without frst creating an outline: You’ll simply be making it up as you go along without any clear sense of where you’re going and how you’ll get there.

Hit the target

If you were engaged in archery practice, what would be the frst thing you’d do? You might check your arrow supply, test the bowstring, see which way the wind is blowing—but frst and foremost you’d want to set up a target and know just where it stood. After all, you can’t hit a target if you don’t have one, or if you’re not sure where it’s hidden.

Here’s another saying: If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time! Before you can begin writing a speech, or even outlining one, you need to know your goal. If you used the exercise at the end of Lesson 5, you have already set up your target. Perhaps you’re giving a per- suasive speech, and you’re intending to persuade your audience that the government should not set speed lim- its on the highway. The exercise in Lesson 5 helped you to enumerate the various points intended to prove that speed limits are bad, and it even had you list certain illustrations that will demonstrate each point.

If you skipped the exercise in the last lesson, go back and do it now! It will provide you with the bare bones you’ll need to create this skeleton, and without bones and a skeleton, you’ll fnd it diffcult to bring your speech to life.

Speech body Parts

A speech follows the same pattern as a well-constructed college essay, containing an introduction, sub-points,

and conclusion. Think of these as the major body parts for your skeleton: head, torso, and feet. The head is your introduction, letting the audience know who they’re listening to just as a face identifes a person. The body is where the living organs are, and it’s where you’ll concentrate all your facts, fgures, examples, and illus- trations. Finally, the feet give it mobility, just as a good conclusion will help your audience take your thoughts away with them.

We’ll discuss each of these body parts in subse- quent lessons, but for now you’ll want to keep in mind that your outline will address each area. If it’s not in the outline, it won’t end up in the speech.


The introduction is aptly named, because that’s exactly what it does: It introduces your topic to the audience. You wouldn’t be comfortable if some stranger walked up to you and simply started trying to sell you a dishwasher; you’d want to know his name and credentials and why you should buy a dishwasher from him. Similarly, your audience wants to know what you intend to tell them, what your topic is, what your goal is—and perhaps even who you are. If they don’t already know you, they’ll want to know your name and why you’re qualifed to be speaking on that particular topic.

So your introduction will be an important time to gain both the attention and the respect of your audi- ence. See Lesson 9 for more information on what to include.


The body will encompass the majority of your speech. It is the place where you will expand upon your theme and develop your topic or your persuasive argument. It’s where you’ll bring out all your facts and statistics, use visual aids, prove that your opinion is correct, and so forth.

This is the part of your outline that will force you to recognize what you know and what you don’t know, and it will show you where more research is needed. It


–PreParing an outline–

will also be constructed from the research that you’ve already done, and we’ll discuss in a moment how to utilize that preliminary work. See Lesson 7 for more information on the body of your speech.


Remember that the conclusion represents the feet of your speech—it is what gives the speech mobility, enabling your audience to take your thoughts home with them. To that end, you will want to summarize your major points, stating clearly how the parts of your speech worked together to achieve your goal. If you’re giving a persuasive speech, for example, your conclu- sion will state how the evidence you’ve provided proves that your thesis is true.

The primary purpose of a conclusion, of course, is to conclude—to end your speech in a memorable way. But it also helps your audience to draw a conclu- sion, to take the abstract information you’ve provided and apply it to their own lives. In this sense, the conclu- sion is more than a summary of your main points; it’s a time to show your audience that what you’ve said has practical value. See Lesson 8 for more information on how to do this.

using Your research

The preliminary research you conducted in Lesson 4 will now start to pay off. But that payoff will only be as great as the notes you’ve taken! That’s why we emphasized so strongly the importance of including anything that might be of interest to you later. If you did jot down where those facts and statistics were located, you can now go back and get the specifcs.

Notice that the very frst thing I do when taking notes is to write down all the necessary citation infor- mation for that book or periodical at the top of the page. This is vitally important so that I can fnd the information again at a later date.

I then take notes in the main body of each page. Some notes are direct quotations, indicated by my use of quotation marks. When writing down a direct quo- tation, make certain that you have it written exactly as it is written in the original. Notice, for example, that I’ve underlined the word will in the frst quotation. That indicates that the word was italicized in the book. If I were to use this quotation in a printed essay, I’d need to italicize that word just as it was in the original.

In the left-hand column, I write down the page number where I found that quotation or information. If there is a bulk of information that does not seem immediately pertinent, I summarize it with a short note and include the range of pages where it’s found.

You can use this same approach to your note- taking, making it very easy to track something down later on. Of course, you’ll have more than one page of notes. Every time you fnd information from a new source, you’ll start a new page in your notebook, listing the exact citation at the top and specifc page numbers in the margin.

outlining from Your notes

Suppose that you were preparing a how-to speech on the topic of painting miniature fgures. It’s your favor- ite hobby, so you already know a good deal about how it’s done. You’ve also read several books and magazine articles on the topic and taken notes as you’ve gone along.

Now it’s time to categorize those notes. Notice in my example that I’ve categorized each note as “paint selection,” “brush work,” and so forth, written beneath the page numbers in the left margin. This step is done when you’re ready to start an outline, not during the actual research process—unless you know in advance


–PreParing an outline–

exactly what you’ll be discussing in your speech. Most of the time, however, you’ll fnd it most valuable to fnish all your research before trying to categorize the information.

The categories are very important for two rea- sons: They enable you to decide what points you want to discuss in your speech, and they make it easy to fnd information on each point as you begin your outline.

So you read through your notes and decide that you want to talk specifcally about various ways to use a paintbrush, different uses for different types of paint, and how to paint various types of material that a min- iature fgure is made from. Here is what your initial outline will look like:

  1. Introduction A. TBD

  2. Ways to use a paintbrush

    1. smooth strokes are best (Smith 22)

    2. but sometimes rough strokes add texture

      (Jones 43)

    3. [need more info on various strokes from


  3. How to select paint

    1. “lifeblood” quote from Smith 36

    2. importance of primer (Smith 12; Jones 29;

      Brown 44)

    3. why paints are different—summarize Smith


  4. Different modeling materials

    1. metal (Jones 128–132)

    2. plastic (Brown 33–40)

    3. ceramic (Smith 13–17)

  5. Conclusion A. TBD

    You will notice several things from this initial

outline. First, it is pretty sparse! This is an important feature of outlining: You are not actually writing the speech, you’re just organizing your thoughts. So for now all you need is a short statement that will direct your thinking and writing in the next phase of the

writing process. Remember that an outline is just a skeleton; you’ll add fesh and muscle when you actually start writing.

You will also notice that the outline draws together your research information from all the sources you’ve consulted and organizes the information into a logical structure. This is where the categorization of your notes becomes so helpful, because you can scan through many pages of notes looking specifcally for information on a particular point, ignoring all the rest that does not apply.

Finally, you’ll notice that there is some informa- tion missing. When you were doing your research, you didn’t think that Smith’s information on various brush strokes would be pertinent to your speech— but now you think differently. Aren’t you overjoyed that you wrote down where to fnd that information? Now you can quickly return to Smith’s book and fnd the specifcs you need to fll out that portion of your outline.


You might note that this lesson is constructed using the very pattern that we’re discussing. It begins with an introduction, then goes into detail in the body, and here we are at the conclusion!

The main points you need to remember from this lesson are these: You must have an outline before you begin writing, or you won’t know where you’re going and how you’ll get there; your outline will only be as good as your research notes, so learn to take notes effciently; the outline is just a skeleton, provid- ing short directions that you’ll use when actually writing the speech.

Now it’s time for you to put these theories into practice.