How to Make an Outline in Word: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Creating an outline in Microsoft Word is a straightforward process that helps you organize your thoughts and structure your document. You’ll use Word’s built-in outlining tools to create a hierarchical list that can be easily expanded or collapsed. By following these steps, you’ll be able to create a professional and neat outline in no time.

How to Make an Outline in Word

This step-by-step guide will walk you through how to make an outline in Word. By the end, you’ll have a clear and organized outline that can serve as the backbone of any document.

Step 1: Open Microsoft Word

Open Microsoft Word on your computer.

Starting with a blank document ensures you have a clean slate to work on your outline.

Step 2: Switch to Outline View

Go to the "View" tab and click on "Outline."

In Outline View, Word changes the display and provides tools specifically for creating outlines.

Step 3: Start Typing Your Main Headings

Begin typing your main headings.

These headings will form the primary structure of your outline. Press Enter after each heading.

Step 4: Use the Tab Key to Indent Sub-Points

Press the Tab key to indent sub-points under each main heading.

Indenting helps create a hierarchy. Each time you press Tab, Word will indent your text, making it a sub-point.

Step 5: Use Shift + Tab to Promote Points

Use Shift + Tab to promote sub-points back to main headings.

If you need to promote a sub-point back to a main point, pressing Shift + Tab will move it to the left.

Step 6: Use the “+” and “-” Buttons to Expand or Collapse Sections

Click the “+” or “-” buttons next to headings to expand or collapse sections.

This feature helps you focus on different parts of your outline without getting overwhelmed by too much information at once.

Step 7: Customize the Outline Levels with the Outlining Toolbar

Use the Outlining toolbar to customize the outline levels.

This toolbar lets you easily change the level of any heading or sub-point to better organize your document.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll have a comprehensive outline that will help you write your document in a structured and logical manner.

Tips for Making an Outline in Word

  • Start with a clear purpose for your outline. Knowing what you want to achieve makes it easier to organize your thoughts.
  • Use short, descriptive headings and sub-points. This keeps your outline clear and concise.
  • Take advantage of Word’s built-in styles. They help maintain a consistent format throughout your document.
  • Regularly review and update your outline. This ensures that it remains relevant as your document evolves.
  • Save your document frequently. Outlines can be complex, and you don’t want to lose your work.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I change the level of a point in my outline?

Use the Tab key to demote a point and Shift + Tab to promote it.

Can I add text to my outline that doesn’t appear in the document?

Yes, you can add comments or notes in Outline View that won’t appear in the final document.

How do I print my outline?

Switch to Print Layout view and print from there. The outline format will be maintained.

Can I use different fonts and styles in my outline?

Yes, you can customize fonts and styles just like any other Word document.

Is there a way to automatically generate an outline from existing text?

Yes, you can use Word’s "AutoFormat" feature to convert existing text into an outline.


  1. Open Microsoft Word.
  2. Switch to Outline view.
  3. Start typing your main headings.
  4. Use the Tab key to indent sub-points.
  5. Use Shift + Tab to promote points.
  6. Use the “+” and “-” buttons to expand or collapse sections.
  7. Customize the outline levels with the Outlining toolbar.


Mastering how to make an outline in Word can be an invaluable skill that enhances your writing process. Not only does it allow you to organize your ideas logically, but it also helps you stay on track as you write. Whether you’re working on an essay, a report, or a novel, taking the time to create a detailed outline will save you time and effort in the long run.

For further reading, you might want to explore more advanced features in Word like using styles, creating custom templates, or integrating your outline with other Microsoft Office tools. These can provide additional ways to streamline your work and make your documents even more professional.

So go ahead, open up Word, and start outlining your next big project! With these tips and steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating clear, organized, and effective documents.