A few tips and options for typical outline organization. I am assuming that you have been instructed in this at some point in your education careers. The purpose of outlining a reading assignment is to help you, the reader, form an overall picture of the writer’s argument and recall the significant points that the writer makes in support of his argument and how they are related to one another. Almost all of the academic readings that you are assigned is carefully organized by the writer to make his argument as clear and complete as possible. The outline should capture the writer’s overall argument and help you recall those specifics when called upon to do so. So begin by reading the whole assignment and then deciding preliminarily if the writing is divided into different parts (=does the writer discuss different things), how many parts, and what those parts are. These parts will be your main outline divisions. You may change your mind about these once you study the text more closely. Then indicate the significant points/examples that the author makes in each of these parts by noting subdivisions and even sub-subdivisions under each main outline division. Remember: the purpose of such an outline is to help you jog your memory, not to rewrite or summarize the assignment in such detail that it is pages and pages long. Thus, one full page is plenty long for an outline of Cohn’s first chapter.
I am less concerned with your particular form—use a consistent combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, capital or small case letters in your organization—than in your accurate identification of the different parts of the text that you are outlining. If your outline is not coherent or orderly, then I will subtract points for the outline form, but you should not have that problem. Read the chapter first and identify the major divisions into which the material falls, then supplement those major divisions with the specific points or examples that Cohn adduces for each of his major points.
Norman Cohn, “Tradition of Apocalyptic Prophecy”
(First, note any introductory point that Cohn makes in the opening paragraph(s), such as his main point of the chapter, his purpose for the chapter, and so on. If he does not make such a point, nothing is necessary before the first numerical entry.)
I. (Identify Cohn’s first general category of material—his first major point in the chapter. Your phrase or sentence should help YOU recall it significance)
A. (or 1.) Identify the first significant point or example that Cohn uses in support of his general category of material. Always include phrase or short sentence to remind you of its significance.
B. (or 2.) Identify the second significant point as you did the first. Continue in the fashion until you have recorded all of the significant points—in the order in which Cohn discusses them, of course—that Cohn makes to support his first general point. Continue on listing each of his significant points (and your reminder note) for his first general category. Then move to:
II. Second general category of material. Proceed in the same manner.
A. (or 1.)
B. (or 2) And so on.
III. Third general category (if any) (Continue with additional general divisions if they exist.)
A. (or 1.)
B. (or 2.) And so on.
Conclusion (if any)
(If the author breaks down any one of his specific points into more particular components, you can so indicate like this:
I. General Point
A. Specific point
1. Even more specific aspect of this.
2. Even more specific aspect.)
Thus, you might organize your outline divisions something like this:
B. AND SO ON
OR something like this:
2. AND SO ON.
First way is probably better, but just be consistent and orderly. I won’t be fussy if you are consistent, orderly, and accurate in your analysis of the whole chapter.