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Outlining Your Article 2: Extensive Outlines

Last week we discussed how to make a brief outline to build the basic structure that will guide you through writing your manuscript. Today we look at how to expand this into what we call an Extensive Outline.


The Extensive Outline

As you might expect, the idea behind an Extensive Outline is simple—just expand on the points you listed in your Brief Outline, adding more details, relevant reference links, and transitions between your ideas. This is also the final stage where you can still alter the structure if you don’t like it. To be most efficient, once you begin a full draft, you should already have all of the key structural and content components in place.

As you expand each bullet point into full sentences and additional bullet points, it’s also a good idea to start creating subheadings. Try to get your outline to look as close to what your finished manuscript will look like, but in point form. For example, your methods section could look something like this:

Patients and methods

You can see that while the manuscript is still a little low on the detail that readers would want to see, the bullet points are much more specific and are now similar to the phrasing you will use when you turn this into a full draft. As you bulk up the content in this way, you will start to notice where extra details will be needed, what text might be a bit extraneous, and how it will all come together as a final package.


Key Benefits

  • You get an idea of length. Many journals have length restrictions for articles, so if your Extensive Outline is already approaching that limit before you even get to the full draft, you may need to look at where you can cut back.
  • Easier reference organization. Leaving references in comment bubbles next to the text they refer to (shown above) allows you to rearrange the material as much as you like without worrying about updating the reference list every time.
  • Refine your figures/tables. By expanding your outline, you will see which proposed figures/tables are most essential, make decisions on what to cut, or realize that new ones might be needed.


Once your co-authors have approved the expanded outline and you’ve rearranged it as much as needed, you’re now ready to start a draft!