Three easy steps for creating a “shell outline” in your 1L year

Share This Article:

As a 1L student, one of the first things you’ll often hear about is outlining. There are many tactics and carving out the time to create your outlines can vary greatly. Whether you’re the type of student who prefers to outline each week or would rather dedicate a chunk of time closer to midterms or finals, outlining is a must. One tried-and-true method that many students rely on is the utilization of a shell outline.

A “shell outline” is an outline that combines your professor’s outline with your casebook’s table of contents (usually organized by topic). The goal is to create an outline that will organize each case and major topic covered throughout your semester. If you do this toward the beginning of the semester, the key advantage you’ll gain is that everything will be well organized as the semester progresses. Since you will be filling in the details as you go, it will be much easier to keep your notes organized and to understand how the rules and cases fit together.

Now that you know the basics of a shell outline, let’s talk about how to create and complete one. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1 – Gather the Required Materials

You will need your professor’s course outline or syllabus and your casebook table of contents or index. Since most books are available in digital formats, it is easy to copy and paste this information. If you do not have a digital version, go to the publisher of your textbook and look for the index where it may be available on the student resources page. If you still have problems finding a digital index of your book, Google it.

Shell Outline

Step 2 – Merge the Documents

Next, merge your professor’s outline and the casebook table of contents together. Many students prefer to have the table of contents from the casebook be the “base” of the outline. You can copy and paste this either from the digital casebook or from the index PDF into a Google or Word document, and then copy and paste the headers from the professor’s course outline. The result should be one document that has all the major headers from the textbook and your professor, plus all the cases. This will take some time, but as you go through the professor’s outline, you can delete cases you skip and sections of the casebook you do not cover. This time is well-spent because as you merge and organize the rules and cases, you will likely gain a better understanding of the overall topic and how the rules and cases fit together.

Step 3 – Begin Filling in the Shell Outline

Success! You’ve created a shell outline you can use through the end of the semester. You may want to fill in your notes from the previous weeks at the outset and then continue to fill in the shell as you read and attend class throughout the semester. For cases, be sure to note the rule, determinative facts and any other information your professor wants you to know. Notice and flag things your professor emphasized or spent a lot of time on in class — these are things he or she considers most important and therefore may be particularly relevant for your exam.

If you follow this method, you will have an outline that has every major case, organized by topic, in a format that matches the structure your professor intended. You can use this outline in its full form to review and prepare for an exam then condense it for use during your final exam preparation.

Looking for more outlining tips or other methods? Check out our note-taking and outlining 101 tips.


Scroll to Top