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What is the Outline?

An outline is a structure and the basis for a presentation. Learn from these resources, how you can use the outline to create a better presentation in PowerPoint.


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An outline in PowerPoint has two meanings, that are related yet different:

  1. An outline is the structure and storyboard of your presentation—this is what you would typically call a presentation outline. Such outlines are needed for all presentation programs, and also for video editing and playwriting programs.
  2. An outline of a PowerPoint presentation has another specific meaning. It is all the text content of the presentation that's inserted within any of the text placeholders. Any text outside text placeholders, such as within charts, tables, or even shapes or text boxes is not part of the PowerPoint outline. If you want to know what a text placeholder is, and how it is different from the other text boxes you see on a PowerPoint slide, visit our Text Boxes vs. Text Placeholders page and choose your version of PowerPoint.

Although visuals, multimedia, and other slide objects can play an important role within a presentation, a proper text outline is still the main skeleton on which the body of a presentation can be sustained. Without a cohesive outline, everything else is akin to a movie that has the best photography, great music, talented cast but no story to put it all together. So how do you create a structured outline, and does PowerPoint provide sufficiently robust outlining tools?

Yes, PowerPoint has great outlining tools, and until PowerPoint 2003, there used to be a very capable Outlining toolbar. And until PowerPoint 2010, there used to a very-visible Outline tab within the default interface. For some reason, Microsoft has done a “great job” of hiding all the Outlining options! Fortunately, those outlining tools are still available, although not as accessible any longer. We'll explore them in these series of tutorials.

But you are not limited to using PowerPoint’s outline tools alone. In many ways, PowerPoint can be quite distracting as an outlining tool because you can go astray formatting fonts, changing backgrounds, or even adding animation, even before your outline is created. So it might be a good idea to create your outline outside PowerPoint. We'll show you how you can do so in these tutorials:

  1. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Notepad (Windows)
  2. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in TextEdit (Mac OS X)
  3. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2013 (Windows)
  4. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2011 (Mac OS X)
  5. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2010 (Windows)
  6. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2008 (Mac OS X)
  7. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2007 (Windows)
  8. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Word 2003 (Windows)
  9. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in Excel (Just to prove a point!)
  10. Creating PowerPoint Outlines on the iPhone or iPad
  11. Creating PowerPoint Outlines in WordPerfect

Once your outlines are created, you need to import them within PowerPoint. Visit our Import Outlines in PowerPoint page, and choose your version of PowerPoint.

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since November 02, 2000