Preparing an Outline For A Speech Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

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 specifics.

But before you actually start writing an outline, it will be important to organize your notes. I like to use spiral-bound notebooks when taking notes, but many people prefer to use index cards. Whatever you use to take notes, you'll want to categorize them by source and by topic. Here is an example of my own notetaking system that is categorized for an outline:

Using Your Research

Notice that the very first thing I do when taking notes is to write down all the necessary citation information for that book or periodical at the top of the page. This is vitally important so that I can find 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 quotation, 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 first 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 find information from a new source, you'll start a new page in your notebook, listing the exact citation at the top and specific page numbers in the margin.

Outlining from Your Notes

Suppose that you were preparing a how-to speech on the topic of painting miniature figures. It's your favorite 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 exactly what you'll be discussing in your speech. Most of the time, however, you'll find it most valuable to finish all your research before trying to categorize the information.

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

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

  1. Introduction
    1. 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 Smith]
  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 38–43
  4. Different modeling materials
    1. metal (Jones 128–132)
    2. plastic (Brown 33–40)
    3. ceramic (Smith 13–17)
  5. Conclusion
    1. 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 flesh 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 specifically for information on a particular point, ignoring all the rest that does not apply.

Finally, you'll notice that there is some information 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 find that information? Now you can quickly return to Smith's book and find the specifics you need to fill 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 efficiently; the outline is just a skeleton, providing short directions that you'll use when actually writing the speech.

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

The practice exercise for this study guide can be found at: Preparing an Outline Practice.

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