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The Outline View in PowerPoint (Ultimate Guide)

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This ultimate guide to the Outline View will catch you up to speed on the best ways to use the Outline View in PowerPoint.

There are a variety of different ways you can use the Outline View in PowerPoint to create, review and rearrange your content, all detailed below.


What is the Outline View?

It’s simply a way to view your presentation based solely on the text found within the content placeholders of your slides.

For example, you can see the difference between the views in the SAME deck below – the one on the left is the Normal View (thumbnail view), the one on the right in the Outline View.

The normal view in PowerPoint compared to the Outline View in PowerPoint

And beyond simply showing the outline of your presentation, there are a number of tricks, shortcuts and PowerPoint hacks to BEND the Outline View to do your beck and calling.

You can slowly scroll down the page and soak up all of this PowerPoint goodness, or use the table of contents on the left to jump around to some of the advanced topics.


Opening the Outline View

There are two different ways to open or close the outline view in PowerPoint

Open the outline view #1

The best way to navigate between the outline view and the normal thumbnail view is with the PowerPoint shortcut:

ALT + SHIFT + TAB

This shortcut opens and/or closes the outline view, displaying either the normal thumbnail view of your slides or the outline view of your content.

Outline View in PowerPoint - 2 Different Views

Notice how in the outline view (pictured above), instead of seeing the thumbnail preview of the slides (with the respective graphics) you only see the text that is in the content placeholders.

And this makes a BIG difference!

The text you type into normal shapes and text boxes will NEVER show up in the Outline View, only the text that is the content placeholders that are set on the Slide Master.

Open the outline view #2

Click the normal view icon at the bottom of your PowerPoint work space to open the outline view

Another way you can open the outline view is by simply clicking the Normal icon at the bottom of your PowerPoint work space.

  1. Clicking the icon once will open the outline view (assuming your notes pane is already open)
  2. Clicking the icon a second time will close the outline view, returning you to the thumbnail view.

If your notes pane is not open, you will need to click the icon an extra time before moving to the outline or thumbnail view.


PowerPoint Outline View not showing text?

Only text that is typed into content placeholders will show up in the outline view.

What’s a content placeholder?

Content placeholders are objects that you (or someone) set on the slide master of your presentation. These are objects like titles, subtitles and any other ‘type to add text here’ type of objects.

These types of placeholders can only be set on the Slide Master, and it’s only the text typed within these placeholders that shows up in the Outline View of your presentation.

So if you move to the Outline View (CTRL + SHIFT + TAB) and don’t see your slide’s text there, it means that your text is not in a content placeholder, it’s likely in a normal shape or text box that has been added to your presentation.

All of the other normal shapes and text boxes that you add to your presentation in the normal view, WILL NOT show up in the outline view of your presentation (no matter what you do).


Drafting an outline in PowerPoint

The MOST IMPORTANT keyboard shortcut to remember when drafting an outline in PowerPoint is:

New Slide Shortcut in PowerPoint, Ctrl plus Enter

Ctrl + Enter

This is your one stop shop for jumping between your content containers (regardless of how many you have) either in the Outline View or the Normal View of your presentation.

In the picture below you can see the different numbers in the Outline View on the left and follow the arrows to the right to see how they line up with the content containers on the right.

How the placeholders in the outline view map to the placeholders in the normal work space view

CTRL + ENTER allows you to jump between these containers without taking your hands off of the keyboard.

This shortcuts works both in the Normal View of your presentation, jumping between content containers, and the Outline View.

Once you run out of content placeholders to type text into, hitting CTRL + ENTER again gives you a new blank slide to work with.


Outline View shortcuts

Besides the CTRL + ENTER keyboard shortcut described above, there are a number of other Outline View shortcuts, most of which involve the ALT + SHIFT keys (making them easier to remember)

See the video below to see the different keyboard shortcuts in action.

When using the Outline View shortcuts, remember that for most of them to work (like collapse groups ALT + SHIFT + 1 and expand groups ALT + SHIFT + 9) you need to rotate to the Outline View to activate it.

To rotate (or activate) the Outline View is to first open the outline view (CTRL + SHIFT + TAB) and then rotate active panes counterclockwise (SHIFT + F6).

If you are brand new to shortcuts, my advice is to just first start with the open/close Outline View shortcut (CTRL + SHIFT + TAB). If you are an intermediate to advanced user and will be frequently using this view, then it’s worthwhile learning how to activate and navigate this view entirely from your keyboard.


Turning bullet points into slides

An advanced PowerPoint trick involving the Outline View is learning how to quickly turn a list of bullet points into PowerPoint slides.

See the below shortcut video for step-by-step instructions:

Note: Just remember when using the outline view in this way, you want to make sure to paste your bullet points as ‘text only’, so that your text takes on the formatting set by your content placeholders instead of maintaining the original text formatting from when you copied it.


Resetting your text formatting

If for whatever reason you forget to paste your content as Text, you can always reset your slide (either in the Normal View or Outline View) to refresh your default formatting.

To do so simply select your text (or slides in the Normal View), navigate to the Home tab, and in the Slide group section select ‘Reset.’

To rest a slide layout and all of your content placeholders, from the Home tab click the Rest command

Resetting your slides simultaneously does two things:

  1. It forces all of your content placeholders back into their original position, defined by their position on your Slide Master (this is useful if something accidentally gets moved out of place).
  2. It forces all of your text back to its original text formatting, as defined by the Slide Master and Theme.

How to print a PowerPoint Outline 

Another overlooked feature of the Outline View is that you can print it.

This is useful when you have a large presentation and you simply want to see what it looks like based on the Titles, sub-titles and other content placeholders….basically your slides minus all of your graphics, pictures, etc.

To print your outline view, simply follow these steps.

1. Navigate to the print options

On your keyboard, hit CTRL+P to open up the print options for your presentation.

2. Navigate to the Outline View

Within the print options, select the ‘Full Page Slides’ dropdown (the default setting) and within the menu in the upper right-hand corner, select the Outline View.

To print your outline, in the print dialog box select your print layout options and select Outline

Once the outline view is selected, you’ll see a print preview of your slides on the far right.

An example of a preview of your outline after you select it in the print dialog box

As shown in the picture above, by default the Outline View is a default blank layout, but you can customize this as I will show you in the next section.

For additional help printing your PowerPoint slides as handouts, check out out guide here.

To learn how to convert your presentation outline into the PDF file format, see our how to article here.


Customize the Outline View

If you frequently print the Outline View of your presentation, you can customize it with your own personalized branding (colors, logos, etc.).

This is particularly useful if you plan on sending the print out of the Outline View around. To customize your Outline View, follow these steps.

Step #1. Navigate to the Handout Master

There are two ways to do this:

  1. From the view tab, select the handout master icon.
  2. Holding the SHIFT key on your keyboard, click the slide sorter command at the bottom of your screen.
Two different ways to navigate to your Handout master, the View Tab and Handout Master command, or hold the Shift key and select the slide sorter view at the bottom of your screen

This Shift + Slide Sorter shortcut is a hidden shortcut.

2. Navigate to the Outline View framework

Within the Handout Master view, open up the slides per page drop-down.

So this is where you can select the different formats of your slides when printing them as handouts, depending on how many slides you plan to print per handout.

These options line up directly (plus some like the Notes Page) with the handout print options available as showing in the picture below.

Showing a comparison of the handout views compared to the handout options in the Handout master

Within the drop down, simply select the Outline View at the bottom to open up the Outline View format.

On the handout master, open up the Slide Per Page drop down and select Slide Outline at the bottom

3. Customize your Outline View

Just like working with any normal slide, in this Handout Master Outline view, you can add your own personal customizations like your logo, design elements, extra text, etc.

In the example below I’ve added the Nuts & Bolt log in the upper right-hand corner and a simply gradient colored rectangle down the left-side of the page. You don’t have to do anything too fancy…a little effort will go a long way and shock most people.

Comparison between a blank outline format and a customized outline format

Using the Outline View in Word and PowerPoint

There are two ways to get an outline from Word into PowerPoint.:

  1. Import the Outline from PowerPoint which allows you to add the slides to an existing presentation
  2. Open the Outline directly in PowerPoint creating a brand new presentation

If you are using a Mac, you need to use the Rich Text file Format (.rtf). See instructions for how to do this on Microsoft’s website here.


Import a Word Outline into PowerPoint

Importing your slides like this will add any new slides to the current presentation you are working in. Don’t worry, none of your other slides will be effected.

To learn about the common mistakes that happen when converting Word to PowerPoint, see our post here.

1. Navigate to the ‘Slides from Outline’ command

From within your presentation, navigate to the Home tab, open up the New Slide drop down and at the bottom of the dialog select Slides from outline… to open up the File Navigation dialog box.

To import an outline from Word, open the New Slide drop down and select Slides from Outline

2. Find your Word document

Within the dialog box, find your Word document and select ‘Insert’.

Navigate to the Word document with your outline in it and select Insert

If your outline is formatted correctly, your text will import correctly in the title and content container placeholders. If not formatted correctly, each line of text from your outline will import as its own individual slide.

To fix this, you need to use the Title style and Heading 1 styles in Word.

Comparison between a correct import and an incorrect import

Don't forget to format your presentation

Importing an outline like this is a great way to jump start your presentation building process, but don’t stop here.

Your outline will always import in the most DEFAULT blank presentation style with only the Title and Content container slide layout.

This default look DOES NOT make for an effective presentation, so you will want to make sure to apply a theme and work on incorporating visuals like charts, tables, pictures, etc. to make your presentation more effective.


Opening an outline in PowerPoint

Instead of importing your outline, you can open your outline directly in PowerPoint to start a brand new presentation.

To do so, follow these simple steps.

1. Go to the Open File dialog box

Within PowerPoint, either navigate to the File tab, Open and select Computer or on your keyboard simply hit CTRL + F12.

Open the Open File dialog box either by navigating to the File tab, click open and select Computer or just hit control plus the F12 key on your keyboard

Using either method, the navigation dialog box opens up.

2. Change the file type you are searching for

Within the Open File dialog box, in the lower right-hand corner change the file type you are searching for from PowerPoint files to All Outlines.

Change the file type you are trying to open from PowerPoint to All Outlines

3. Find your outline document

Find your outline document (I usually just save mine in Word) and click okay.

Note, if you are using a Mac, you need to save your Word document in the Rich Text File (.rtf) format.

If your outline is formatted correctly, your text will import correctly in the title and content container placeholders. If not formatted correctly, each line of text from your outline will import as its own individual slide.

To fix this, you need to use the Title style and Heading 1 styles in Word.

Comparison between a correct import and an incorrect import (all based on the formatting in your Word document)

Don't forget to format your presentation

Importing an outline like this is a great way to jump start your presentation building process, but don’t stop here.

Your outline will always import in the most DEFAULT blank presentation style with only the Title and Content container slide layout.

This default look DOES NOT make for an effective presentation, so you will want to make sure to apply a theme and work on incorporating visuals like charts, tables, pictures, etc. to make your presentation more effective.


Conclusion

So those are all the different ways you can use the Outline View in PowerPoint to quickly build and edit your PowerPoint presentations.

If you end up using this view a lot, I highly recommend learning the keyboard shortcuts for it. Shortcuts are the fastest way to double your productivity in PowerPoint. For a full list of our favorite keyboard shortcuts in PowerPoint, read our shortcut guide here.

If you enjoyed the depth and detail of this blog post, you can learn more about boosting your PowerPoint skills with us here.

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Updated on December 1, 2019

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