Organizing and Outlining

By Joshua Trey Barnett
University of Indiana, Bloomington, IN


After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Select a topic appropriate to the audience and occasion.
  • Formulate a specific purpose statement that identifies precisely what you will do in your speech.
  • Craft a thesis statement that clearly and succinctly summarizes the argument you will make in your speech.
  • Identify and arrange the main points of your speech according to one of many organizational styles discussed in this chapter.
Connect the points of your speech to one another.
  • Create a preparation and speaking outline for your speech.

Chapter Outline

  • Introduction
  • The Topic, Purpose, and Thesis
    • Selecting a Topic
    • Formulating a Purpose Statement
    • Writing a Thesis Statement
  • Writing the Body of Your Speech
    • Selecting Main Points
    • Selecting Sub-points
  • Organizational Styles
    • Chronological
    • Topical
    • Spatial
    • Comparative
    • Problem-Solution
    • Causal
  • Connecting Your Main Points
    • Transitional Statements
    • Internal Previews
    • Summaries
  • Outlining Your Speech
    • Outline Types
    • Outline Structure
    • Preparation Outline
    • Speaking Outline
    • Using the Outline
  • Conclusion
  • Module Activities
  • Glossary
  • References
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B

Meg jaunted to the front of the classroom—her trusty index cards in one hand and her water bottle in the other. It was the mid-term presentation in her entomology class, a course she enjoyed more than her other classes. The night before, Meg had spent hours scouring the web for information on the Woody Adelgid, an insect that has ravaged hemlock tree populations in the United States in recent years. But when she made it to the podium and finished her well- written and captivating introduction, her speech began to fall apart. Her index cards were a jumble of unorganized information, not linked together by any unifying theme or purpose. As she stumbled through lists of facts, Meg—along with her peers and instructor—quickly realized that her presentation had all the necessary parts to be compelling, but that those parts were not organized into a coherent and convincing speech.

Giving a speech or presentation can be a daunting task for anyone, especially inexperienced public speakers or students in introductory speech courses. Speaking to an audience can also be a rewarding experience for speakers who are willing to put in the extra effort needed to craft rhetorical masterpieces. Indeed, speeches and presentations must be crafted. Such a design requires that speakers do a great deal of preparatory work, like selecting a specific topic and deciding on a particular purpose for their speech. Once the topic and purpose have been decided on, a thesis statement can be prepared. After these things are established, speakers must select the main points of their speech, which should be organized in a way that illuminates the speaker’s perspective, research agenda, or solution to a problem. In a nutshell, effective public speeches are focused on particular topics and contain one or more main points that are relevant to both the topic and the audience. For all of these components to come together convincingly, organizing and outlining must be done prior to giving a speech.

This chapter addresses a variety of strategies needed to craft the body of public speeches. The chapter begins at the initial stages of speechwriting— selecting an important and relevant topic for your audience. The more difficult task of formulating a purpose statement is discussed next. A purpose statement drives the organization of the speech since different purposes (e.g., informational or persuasive) necessitate different types of evidence and presentation styles. Next, the chapter offers a variety of organizational strategies for the body of your speech. Not every strategy will be appropriate for every speech, so the strengths and weaknesses of the organizational styles are also addressed. The chapter then discusses ways to connect your main points and to draw links between your main points and the purpose you have chosen. In the final section of this chapter, one of the most important steps in speechwriting, outlining your speech, is discussed. The chapter provides the correct format for outlines as well as information on how to write a preparation outline and a speaking outline.

Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence. – Buddha