“Key Word Outlining” is the foundational writing skill that students first learn in the IEW method and Writing to Learn classes. All writing throughout all three of my levels begins with a key word outline (kwo). The way students choose the information for the kwos changes as we progress through the different types of writing.

Why is Key Word Outlining so important?

Key Word Outlining is an efficient note-taking method which also helps students make their writing original.  When the “rules” are followed, they are freed from the wording of the original source. Students who learn to key word outline will never need to plagiarize or “copy and paste” to produce a paper. Key Word Outlining trains them to minimally note the information they need, leaving them free to write in their own words.

Saying things in one’s own way is completely natural. After hearing someone relate a story or an interesting news item, no one uses the words of the original speaker when repeating the information. People tend to remember the facts that they think are the most important or most interesting and repeat them in their own words.

Unfortunately, words on a page are not so easily escaped. The challenge in writing from written sources is to get away from the original source so that the language that comes out is itself original. Key Word Outlining is the easiest way to escape the trap of repeating a source.

How to make a key word outline

Here are the “rules” we use in PREP-1 and Level 1 when we first start key word outlining:

  1. For each sentence or fact, pick out 3 words that are most important and convey the most information about the fact.    Sentence/Fact #1 is “1.” Sentence/Fact #2 is “2”, etc.
  2. You may use abbreviations, symbols, and numbers in place of words.  These are “free”; they do not count for your 3 words.  Use standard abbreviations. The symbols should be recognizable enough that you will be able to remember what it means when you come back to your outline at a later time.
  3. For each fact, list 3 Key Words and any numbers, symbols, and abbreviations.  Do not try to reproduce entire sentences for your outline. Be as brief as possible.  You want to be able to write the ideas in your own words.  Using too many words from the original makes it difficult to be original yourself.
  4. You may use synonyms in your KWO in place of the original word(s).  Sometimes a good synonym can be used to take the place of 2-3 words.

After students master the basics of key word outlining, they are ready to advance to the next kwo stage: taking notes from multiple sources to create a “fused outline.”

For a demonstration of basic Key Word Outlining, see the video below from a recent PREP-1 class. A pdf of the “Sea Turtles” paragraph and a list of Key Word Outlining symbols and abbreviations can also be downloaded below.

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