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How to Write an Effective Outline (Part One)

When you are sitting down to draft your outline, I suggest using three sources. First, look at your class notes to isolate the major areas of the casebook that you covered. Remember, one of the important reasons to go to class is to learn from the professor what topics are going to be on the exam and what are not.


So, when I sat down in my eight hour outlining session for a class, I started by photocopying the table of contents from the casebook (which is usually in the form of a handy outline). Next I would use a highlighter to identify what was actually covered in the class. Everything else can be pretty much be ignored. With this in mind, I would sometimes white out the lines in the case book table of contents that were not covered in class and then recopy the table of contents to erase the parts that were whited out. Doing this had a way of clearing the decks in my mind about what I needed to master. Try it; it feels great.

For example, typically in a first semester contracts class, you are going to cover a very limited range of law, covering three or four major topic areas in the semester: offer, acceptance, consideration, and maybe a couple others.

Putting together the outline is just a matter of rewriting your classroom notes in a way that isolates the major points and then the corollaries to the law under each of them. Then, you will put them in a format that can be easily internalized and that makes sense as a whole. In all, your outline should not be any longer than 15 pages with a maximum ten bullet points and a few sub-points each per page. If it’s more than that, revise it again and cut it down.

The key here is that besides putting together an outline of the concepts so that you can learn them (which is what most people try to do), you also want the outline to help you understand how the law logically fits together as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, in order to effectively sort out the hypothetical stories that are the material for your exam, you must understand how the individual parts of the black letter law relate to one another as a whole.

One Comment

  1. Ryan Lavoie
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Is there any way we could see a sample outline page?

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