How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline

Updated July 12, 2018

Many writers feel outlining is a needless task and when writing fiction, this is sometimes true. However, when writing a book-length piece of nonfiction, outlining is very important. The following tips include a basic set of ideas to get a novice writer started. Other ideas can be applied and adapted as needed.

In the notebook, craft a working table of contents for your book. This should contain all the chapters the writer intends to have in the book, along with subheadings for each chapter. Don't be afraid to scratch things out, make notes, move things around, brainstorm and make a mess.

Type out the table of contents into a word processor. Use headings and subheadings for each chapter when formatting. Don't forget to assign names to each chapter and be clear in the names of each subheading. Print out the table of contents. Be sure to save the document.

Within each chapter and subheading, write a several sentence summary on to the printout. This should include the main points of the chapter and each subheading. Be as detailed as possible in as few sentences as possible. Again, don't be afraid to make a mess on this draft.

Once all the summaries have been worked out and are clear, create a new document. Copy and paste the table of contents into the new document. Change the title from "Table of Contents" to "Outline: Chapter Summaries." Type each summary written on the printouts into the document and save the changes.


Use research material focused on the topic being written about as guidance through the outlining process. Let this outline act as a guide throughout the entire project.


Be sure plagiarism isn't occurring. If there's a question about if it's happening, take an online workshop focusing on plagiarism. Don't be too wordy in the outline or it won't serve as a usable tool.

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Things Needed

  • Computer
  • Word processor
  • Printer
  • Notebook
  • Pens

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