Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughts on Thinking Like an Outline

A primary message we send to students is that they should write in outline form. We encourage them to organize their notes in outline form. We insist that they draft briefs, memos, and other documents in outline form. For some, thinking and writing in outline form comes easily. For others, they think and organize differently. In the end, however, they must translate their documents into outline form.

 I have no objections to this instruction. I also insist that my students produce documents that conform to an outline. Recently, however, I realized that many of their readers, particularly decision makers, including judges, do not naturally think in outline form. Their natural reasoning process may require flow charts or organizational models that look like puzzles. Thus, for these decision makers, we insist that they think like outlines.

 The question then arises, how do we best communicate with decision makers who do not think like outlines, especially when we really don’t know which ones think like outlines and which do not? I don’t have an answer to this question. Perhaps, because I naturally think like an outline, I am not the best person to come up with an answer. Our blog permits readers to post comments. If you have thoughts on the subject, I hope you will share them.



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