5 Topical Outline: Business Report Practice


Your free writing activity helped you gather your thoughts and put them all on paper. As you review your “brain dump,” you will begin to see the connections between your thoughts. Patterns and gaps may begin to stand out. When you start to organize your ideas, you will you be able to translate your raw insights into a form that will communicate meaning to your audience.


Organize your Ideas

When you write, you need to organize your ideas in an order that makes sense. The writing you complete in all your courses exposes how well you analyze information and how good your critical thinking skills are.  Order refers to your choice of what to present first, second, third, and so on in your writing. The order you pick closely relates to your purpose for writing a particular assignment.

For example, when writing an expository essay, it may be important to first provide background information on your topic. Once you’ve organized your thoughts you should find evidence – do the research – that supports your claim. Then, you may want to group your evidence effectively to convince readers that your point of view on an issue is well reasoned and worthy of belief.
Methods of Organizing Writing

The three common methods of organizing writing are:

  1. chronological order (ordering from A to Z, from beginning to end)
  2. spatial order (ordering as issues as they appear when observed)
  3. order of importance  (ordering from most important to least, or vice versa).

An outline is a written plan that serves as a skeleton for the paragraphs you write. Later, when you draft paragraphs in the next stage of the writing process, you will add support to create the “flesh” and “muscle” for your assignment.

When you write, your goal is not only to complete an assignment but also to write for a specific purpose—perhaps to inform, to explain, to persuade, or for a combination of these purposes. Your purpose for writing should always be in the back of your mind because it will help you decide which pieces of information belong together and how you will order them. In other words, choose the order that will most effectively fit your purpose and support your main point.

The connection between Order and Purpose:

Order Purpose
1. Chronological Order To explain the history of an event or a topic
To tell a story or relate an experience
To explain how to do or make something
To explain the steps in a process
2. Spatial Order To help readers visualize something as you want them to see it
To create a main impression using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
3. Order of Importance To persuade or convince
To rank items by their importance, benefit, or significance
Writing a Thesis Statement

One legitimate question readers always ask about a piece of writing is “What is the big idea?” Your instructor has undoubtedly asked you, “What is your thesis?” Every expository writing task—from the short essay to the ten-page term paper to the lengthy senior thesis—needs a big idea, or a controlling idea, as the spine for the work. The controlling idea is the main idea that you want to present and develop.

For a longer piece of writing, the main idea should be broader than the main idea for a shorter piece of writing. Be sure to frame a main idea that is appropriate for the length of the assignment. Ask yourself, “How many pages will it take for me to explain and explore this main idea in detail?” Be reasonable with your estimate. Then expand or trim it to fit the required length.

The big idea, or controlling idea, you want to present in an essay is expressed in a thesis statement. A thesis statement is often one sentence long, and it states your point of view. The thesis statement is not the topic of the piece of writing but rather what you have to say about that topic and what is important to tell readers.

For business students, the controlling idea will be dictated by the business genre you are writing. For a rhetorical analysis of a discourse community written genre, your controlling idea will be related to the contextual analysis of the genre.

The first thesis statement you write will be a preliminary or a working thesis statement. You will need it when you begin to outline your assignment as a way to organize it. As you continue to develop the arrangement, you can limit your working thesis statement if it is too broad or expand it if it proves too narrow for what you want to say.

Writing the Outline

For an essay or a research paper, students should develop a formal outline before writing a major paper to guide the writing in an organized manner. A formal outline is a detailed guide that shows how all your supporting ideas relate to each other. It helps you distinguish between ideas that are of equal importance and ones that are of lesser importance. You build your paper based on the framework created by the outline.

There are two types of formal outlines: the topic outline and the sentence outline. You format both types of formal outlines in the same way.

  • Place your introduction and thesis statement at the beginning, under roman numeral I.
  • Use roman numerals (II, III, IV, V, etc.) to identify main points that develop the thesis statement.
  • Use capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.) to divide your main points into parts.
  • Use arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) if you need to subdivide any As, Bs, or Cs into smaller parts.
  • End with the final roman numeral expressing your idea for your conclusion.

Here is what the skeleton of a traditional formal outline looks like. The indention helps clarify how the ideas are related.

  1. Introduction/Thesis statement
  2. Main point 1 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 1
    1. Supporting detail → becomes a support sentence of body paragraph 1
      1. Subpoint
      2. Subpoint
    2. Supporting detail
      1. Subpoint
      2. Subpoint
    3. Supporting detail
      1. Subpoint
      2. Subpoint
    4. Main point 2 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 2
      1. Supporting detail
      2. Supporting detail
      3. Supporting detail
    5. Main point 3 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 3
      1. Supporting detail
      2. Supporting detail
      3. Supporting detail
    6. Conclusion

Constructing Topic Outlines

A topic outline is the same as a sentence outline except you use words or phrases instead of complete sentences. Words and phrases keep the outline short and easier to comprehend. All the headings, however, must be written in parallel structure.

Here is the topic outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing. Her purpose is to inform, and her audience is a general audience of her fellow college students. Notice how Mariah begins with her thesis statement. She then arranges her main points and supporting details in outline form using short phrases in parallel grammatical structure.

  1. Introduction
    • Thesis statement: Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing.
  2. E-book readers and the way that people read
    • Books are easy to access and carry around
      • easy to download
      • storage in memory for hundreds of books
    • An expanding market
      • e-book readers from booksellers
      • e-book readers from electronics and computer companies
    • Limitations of current e-book readers
      • incompatible featured from one brand to the next
      • borrowing and sharing e-books
  3. Film cameras replaced by digital cameras
    • Three types of digital cameras
      • compact digital cameras
      • single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs
      • cameras that combine the best features of both
    • The confusing “megapixel wars”
    • The zoom lens battle
  4. The confusing choice among televisions
    • 1080p vs. 768p
    • Plasma screens vs. LCDs
    • Home media centers
  5. Conclusion
    • How to be a wise consumer



Writing an Effective Topic Outline

This checklist can help you write an effective topic outline for your assignment. It will also help you discover where you may need to do additional reading or prewriting.

  • Do I have a controlling idea that guides the development of the entire piece of writing?
  • Do I have three or more main points that I want to make in this piece of writing? Does each main point connect to my controlling idea?
  • Is my outline in the best order—chronological order, spatial order, or order of importance—for me to present my main points? Will this order help me get my main point across?
  • Do I have supporting details that will help me inform, explain, or prove my main points?
  • Do I need to add more support? If so, where?
  • Do I need to make any adjustments in my working thesis statement before I consider it the final version?

Word Processing Features

Word processing programs generally have an automatic numbering feature that can be used to prepare outlines. This feature automatically sets indents and lets you use the tab key to arrange information just as you would in an outline. Although in business this style might be acceptable, in college your instructor might have different requirements. Teach yourself how to customize the levels of outline numbering in your word-processing program to fit your instructor’s preferences.

Constructing Sentence Outlines

A sentence outline is the same as a topic outline except you use complete sentences instead of words or phrases. Complete sentences create clarity and can advance you one step closer to a draft in the writing process.

Here is the sentence outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing.

  1. Introduction
    • Thesis statement: Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing.
  1. E-book readers are changing the way people read.
    • E-book readers make books easy to access and carry around.
      • Books can be downloaded electronically.
      • Devices can store hundreds of books in memory.
    • The market expands as a variety of companies enter it.
      • Booksellers sell their own e-book readers.
      • Electronics and computer companies also sell e-book readers.
    • Current e-book readers have significant limitations.
      • The devices are owned by different companies and may not be compatible.
      • Few programs have been made to fit the other way Americans read: by borrowing books from libraries.
  2. Digital cameras have almost totally replaced film cameras.
    • The first choice is the type of digital camera.
      • Compact digital cameras are light but have fewer megapixels.
      • single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs, may be large and heavy, but may be used for many functions.
      • Some cameras combine the best features of compacts and SLRs.
    • Choosing the camera type involves the confusing “megapixel wars”
    • The zoom lens battle also determines the camera you will buy.
  3. Nothing is more confusing to me than choosing among televisions.
    • In the resolutions wars, what are the benefits of 1080p vs. 768p?
    • In the screen size wars, what do plasma screens vs. LCD screens offer?
    • Does every home really need a media center?
  4. Conclusion
    • The solution for many people should be to avoid buying on impulse. Consumers should think about what the really need, not what is advertised.



The information compiled under each roman numeral will become a paragraph in your final paper. In the previous example, the outline follows the standard five-paragraph essay arrangement, but longer essays will require more paragraphs and thus more roman numerals. If you think that a paragraph might become too long or stringy, add an additional paragraph to your outline, renumbering the main points appropriately.

  • Writers must put their ideas in order so the assignment makes sense. The most common orders are chronological order, spatial order, and order of importance.
  • After gathering and evaluating the information you found for your essay, the next step is to write a working, or preliminary, thesis statement.
  • The working thesis statement expresses the main idea that you want to develop in the entire piece of writing. It can be modified as you continue the writing process.
  • Effective writers prepare a formal outline to organize their main ideas and supporting details in the order they will be presented.
  • A topic outline uses words and phrases to express the ideas.
  • A sentence outline uses complete sentences to express the ideas.
  • The writer’s thesis statement begins the outline, and the outline ends with suggestions for the concluding paragraph.


Complete the following exercise and export your answers to a Word document. Then, be sure to observe correct outline form, including correct indentations and the use of Roman and Arabic numerals and capital letters.

  1. Licenses and attributions CC licensed content, shared previously: Successful Writing.  Authored by: Anonymous.  Provided by Anonymous. Located at: http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/english-for-business-success/. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike