Get in Line and Outline

Numbers and letters are an effective way to organize our thoughts. But when outlining, we have to remember that if we have a “1,” we must have a “2.” If we have an “A,” we must have a “B.” It’s basic third grade outlining.

For some of us, third grade was a while back. So here’s a reminder on proper outlining:

Unfortunately writers rely on software. When we type “A,” Microsoft Word automatically proceeds to create an outlining format for us. Helpful, right?

No! As smart as computers are, we still have to teach them what to do and when to do it. So here’s how to properly outline using Microsoft Word’s numbering button:

An even better option is to create “Styles” for outlining. That will ensure proper line and paragraph spacing in addition to proper numbering so you need not use tabs. But using “Styles” in Microsoft Word is a matter for another lesson.

This is not rocket science. But rocket scientists should definitely know these rules too, because points and sub-points are most critically used in non-fiction writing.

So rocket scientists beware: we writers are watching you! Red pen in hand.

Helpful websites:

Proper outlining format:

Easy-to-follow tutorial about Microsoft’s numbering drop-down menu:

Carol Peterson writes to educate, entertain and inspire. She has four books for use in classrooms grades 4-7. Her With Faith Like Hers Bible study series looks at the lives of women recorded in Scripture to see what we can apply from their lives to ours.  Carol can be found at