Step # 04: Analyze the Structure of the Book and Write an Outline

Step 4:  Analyze the structure of the book being studied or from which your text is taken and write your own outline of it. The structural analysis is a paragraph outline.  When the general divisions of a book are understood, the writer’s argument is clearer, and the context of each statement is better established.

A biblical document, i.e., book) can be divided into parts as follows:  sections, paragraphs, and sentences.  A group of sentences supports or relates to (i.e., define, explain, prove, illustrate, apply) the central idea of a paragraph; the central ideas of a group of paragraphs support or relate to the central idea of the section; the central ideas of the sections support the theme or central idea of the book.  Generally, several paragraphs all relate to one larger idea, which in turn helps to develop the thesis of the book.  These paragraphs form one section.  Often, a paragraph will stand-alone or be the only paragraph relating to its general idea and form a section by itself.  In such cases, the paragraph summary is also the section summary.

A structural analysis is a paragraph outline of the book.  Since each paragraph is a thought unit, you should study one paragraph at a time.  As stated above, each paragraph has a central idea which is explained, supported, illustrated, or applied by the group of more specific sentences that make up the paragraph.  The central idea is sometimes stated in a topic sentence, and sometimes it is not stated.  Whether stated or understood, the central idea consists of a subject and an assertion or statement about the subject.

You may write a structural analysis by performing the following steps:  (1) In your own words, write a one-sentence summary that states the central idea of each paragraph.  (2) Group all paragraph summaries that support the same general idea into one group.  (3) Write a one-sentence summary of each group of paragraphs by summarizing that entire group of paragraph summaries into one sentence.  Each of these summaries states the single central idea of a section.  (4) Write a summary of all section summaries.  This summary states the thesis of the book.  (5) Form an outline by the process of coordination and subordination–let the one summary of all section summaries form the thesis, each section summary form a main point (e.g., I, II, III), and each paragraph summary form a sub-point (e.g., A, B, C).  The outline that results is called a “paragraph outline.”  This is a very effective methodof drawing out the ideas of a document and showing their relationships.  Figure 6 illustrates how to write these summaries.


Figure 6.  Diagrammatic Illustration of the Procedure for Performing a Structural Analysis

Summary of Paragraph # 1

Summary of Paragraph # 2

Summary of Paragraph # 3

Summary of Section # 1 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries 1, 2, 3


Summary of Paragraph # 4

Summary of Paragraph # 5

Summary of Paragraph # 6

Summary of Section  # 2  – Summary of Paragraph Summaries  4, 5, 6


Summary of Paragraph # 7

Summary of Paragraph # 8

Summary of Section  # 3 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries  7, 8


Summary of Section # 4 – Summary of Paragraph Summary 9


Summary of Paragraph # 10

Summary of Paragraph # 11

Summary of Paragraph # 12

Summary of Section # 5 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries 10, 11, 12


Summary of all section summaries – Summary of Sections 1 – 5.


Through coordination and subordination, the paragraph and section summaries can be made into an outline of the book, as the Roman numerals and the capital letters in parentheses indicate.  First, write the summary of the section summaries at the top of the page as the theme.  Second, write the section summaries down as your main points and number them with Roman numerals.  Third, write the paragraph summaries as major and minor subpoints and use upper case (i.e., capital letters) to designate major subpoints and Arabic numerals to designate the minor subpoints in them in your outline.  Figure 7 provides an illustration of the structural outline that this process forms.

Figure 7.  Diagrammatic Illustration of the Outline that Results From the Process of Doing the Structural Analysis:

Name of Book

Thesis or theme of the book – One-sentence summary of all group summaries

I. Summary of Section # 1 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries 1, 2, 3

A.  Summary of Paragraph # 1

B. Summary of Paragraph # 2

C. Summary of Paragraph # 3

II. Summary of Section  # 2  – Summary of Paragraph Summaries  4, 5, 6

A. Summary of Paragraph # 4

B. Summary of Paragraph # 5

C. Summary of Paragraph # 6

III. Summary of Section  # 3 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries  7, 8

A. Summary of Paragraph # 7

B. Summary of Paragraph # 8

IV. Summary of Section # 4 – Same as Summary of Paragraph # 9

V. Summary of Section # 5 – Summary of Paragraph Summaries 10, 11, 12

A. Summary of Paragraph # 10

B. Summary of Paragraph # 11

C. Summary of Paragraph # 12

Once the historical analysis and the structural analysis are written in good form, place them in a separate notebook reserved exclusively for material learned about the book they analyze.  Although you will always be revising and adding to these introductions and outlines, you will never have to completely perform these analyses again.  You will, however, want to review them when studying portions of a book and add newly discovered data.  Every time you study a paragraph within the book, you can review these notes for your historical and book contexts.  It will be well to review and even add to these analyses, or even revise them, as more and more is learned.  You may want to add notes resulting from each study of a paragraph into your notebook to update and make your exegetical and expository notes on each book more complete.

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