How to Write a Manuscript Outline

A manuscript outline can be anything from a brief one-page summary that covers basic concepts and develops an organizational pattern to a multiple-page schematic conveying your ideas. Either way, an outline helps you organize your manuscript and impose a logical order for the flow of ideas.

Determine your target audience. You must write in a style that your audience will understand and appreciate. A lawyer might expect a different tone and vocabulary than a chef.

Determine the purpose of your manuscript. If you want to explain how to do something, your structure might be different than if you are arguing a point.

List all of the arguments, points or ideas that you think should be in your manuscript. Once you have them listed, group them together according to relationships. Order the material within the groups, from general to specific.

Label each group with headings and subheading. Once you've gotten your ideas grouped together, determine what the main idea of each one is. Beneath each main idea, list the points that support it.

Reorganize your groups, if necessary. This is the planning stage and the manuscript outline is the planning tool. Use it. Organized ideas and an understandable flow of writing will help to make your manuscript clear and understandable.

Write your manuscript. While writing, remember, your outline is not set in stone. You can make changes. If you get stuck while writing, skip to a different point in your outline. This keeps you working and prevents writer's block.


If you write your outline on a computer word processor, you can write your manuscript by filling in the outline. Just go to each heading and sub-heading and add the detailed information to flesh out each portion.

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