How To Outline A Nonfiction Book? Here Are The Simple Steps

by CJ McDaniel // January 23  

Writing a nonfiction book is a different experience altogether. Beginners sometimes get confused about the process. But if you know how to create a book outline and prepare one before you begin, writing a nonfiction book would be a piece of cake to you.

In this post, we’re going to discuss how to outline nonfiction books. Continue reading!

Why You Need To Know How To Outline A Nonfiction Book

Knowing how to outline your nonfiction book is important because your book needs one. Without an outline, it is easy to get stuck while writing. Most times, writers’ block occurs because you didn’t plan out your writing. That’s what an outline helps you to avoid.

Creating An Outline

An outline presents at a glance the key points of your book from start to finish. The kind of outline you have in a nonfiction book is different from other books, like academic works.

Creating an outline for a nonfiction book requires you to think through the entire process. It is a process where you plan what you want to write. Planning will keep you organized. Hence, you will accomplish your book writing goal faster.

Steps To Creating A Book Outline

Creating a book outline can be pretty easy, but it still requires your effort. Once you master the process, you can easily repeat it for subsequent books, whether it is nonfiction or not. The steps to take are:

Be clear about the book’s idea: 

Writing a book of any length can be tough if you do not have a clear idea of it. Understand the core idea or message that the book will hinge on. Who is the target audience? How will the book serve them?

It would be best to clarify the best possible way to communicate your message to your target audience. Here, what you are doing is scrutinizing your book idea and gaining clarity. You might also need to research your book idea for more clarity.

Using a mind map:

The mind map approach is a strategy for creating outlines. To create a mind map is to flesh out what you want your book to contain. Tony Buzan, a British author, made this method very popular.

With the mind map strategy, you have to write down your book’s ideas in a visual manner. You could use paper or a whiteboard. Start with placing your book’s central idea in the centre of your paper or board, serving as the map.

From the central idea, you can start to break out different components of the idea. These components would include all the other ideas revolving around the central idea. It is an exercise that requires you to think critically about your book idea.

Add subtopics that the book would contain and smaller ideas within the central idea and main components.

The components that you write down here will form the chapters of your book. Do not use long sentences in the exercise. Stick to keywords and phrases.

You don’t have to consider the book’s length at this point. Just keep pouring your ideas on the map.

Group similar topics together:

At this stage, you would need to organize the ideas based on their relationship with each other. Similar ideas are grouped. It is these idea groups that will form the subtopics under each chapter.

Fix in the subtopics within the appropriate topic:

Pull out all the subtopics and ensure that they are in the appropriate topic group. Keep expanding on the ideas and organize. You should also generate more ideas, if you can.

Create the book outline:

At the end of this process, the central idea becomes the book title. If you want a subtitle for your book, you could also generate it from the central idea. The main components become the chapters, and the subtopics are the content under each chapter.

The steps outlined do not mean that your outline is cast in stone. More ideas will come to mind as you write. All you have to do is fix them in the appropriate place and continue with your work.

Decide what should be in the front matter sections:

The front-matter sections are the preliminary content in a book before the actual book starts. They also come in as part of the book’s outline. However, they do not directly affect the content or idea of the book. Some content found in the front matter section of a book include:

Testimonials: Some books include testimonials from people that have read and reviewed the book. It is very common among self-help authors. The testimonial convinces potential buyers of the efficacy of the book in the area that it addresses.

Other times, authors leverage the reviews of influencers and public figures as a book marketing strategy. When people see that others have read a book and found it worthwhile, they will be willing to spend their money on it.

Testimonials usually come in the first few pages of the book. The rationale for the positioning is so that you could easily find them when flipping through a book you want to buy.

Title page: It serves as the first point of interaction with the book. Hence, it is not optional for a book to have a title page. Rather, it is mandatory.

In a nonfiction book’s outline, it is uncommon to see the title page. The commonest place to find a title page in the outline is in academic research works. Hence, a title page could or could not find its place in the book outline.

Copyright page: The copyright page in a book is where you find all the copyrights, legal rights, details about the book publication and printing, as well as the ISBN.

From the page, it is clear to the reader the person (s) who has the right to republish, reprint, and obtain these rights where necessary. The decision to include the copyright page in the outline is entirely the author’s decision to make.

Dedication page: The dedication page allows the author to express thanks or recognize someone that the author deems worthy.

Foreword: The foreword is an introduction of a book by any person other than the author. It introduces the book’s content and prepares the readers’ minds on what to expect from the book.

A foreword is usually by a credible person who can validly vouch for the author and the credibility of the book’s information.

Preface: You would often find a preface in academic writings. It could be akin to a foreword. However, in this case, it is from the author’s perspective. The author uses the opportunity to give background information about the book, why he wrote the book and why he feels he is the right person to write a book of that nature.

Acknowledgements: Apart from the author, other persons contributed to the success of the book project and generally to the author as a person, directly and indirectly. The author uses the acknowledgement page to express his gratitude to them. It is common to find the author appreciating editors, publishers, mentors, family and friends, and his team members.

You could include all these front matter items in your book outline, or you could choose not to. However, for formal academic writings like school thesis, it is important to include them in the outline.

Determine what should be in the back matter section:

After the main content of the book, the back matter items could also be in the outline. It depends on the style of the author. However, some common back matter items are the glossary, index, references, and more information about the author.

A glossary contains words and their interpretation or definition. It could be that the word is uncommon, newly introduced, specialized, or of a foreign language.

An index also contains words, but it refers the reader to the book’s pages where you can find those words. The words are often in alphabetical order. The essence of it is to help the reader navigate his way through the book. The index contains words and subtopics used frequently throughout the book.

References consist of all the sources that the author relied on for the writing process. It could include books, articles, journals, newspapers, internet sources that the writer consulted.

About the author is usually the part of the book that gives the reader an insight into the author’s personality, accomplishments and area of specialty.


After you finish writing your book outline, take a break from it. Coming back to it later will help you see it with fresher eyes. You can remove ideas that are not related to the central idea.

Ideally, you put much thought into creating your outline. If properly done, it will also serve as a marketing tool for the book.

Potential buyers tend to flip through a book’s outline to determine if it’s the best fit for them. Sell your book to your target audience by giving them the right content that serves their needs. Besides the back cover, the book’s outline is the best place to showcase that.

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!