When creating any piece of academic work such as a dissertation or research paper, it is important you first create an outline of your work before beginning the actual writing process.

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An outline serves as a guide on how to structure the piece and stay on course through the initial writing process. But outlining is not the only way to conceptualize your ideas and keep your writing solid.

Enter: reverse outlining.

Original: SourceReverse outlining can also achieve a similar purpose and with greater outcomes. Unlike an outline, which is created before you have a draft, a reverse outline is outlining what has already been written.

In this article, we will talk about the benefits of reverse outlining, how to write a reverse outline, and some best practices to keep in mind.

4 Benefits of Reverse Outlining

We all know the importance of creating outlines but here are four key benefits of writing a reverse outline.

Identify and fill gaps in your research or analysis

Performing a reverse outline requires digging into each paragraph, its purpose, and its relation to the entire document.

This helps you identify the missing sections or parts in your document. In addition, it helps you find whether you have changed course for the better or worse while writing your paper.

From there, you can brainstorm more ideas or expand on your evidence if what you have in the main body or thesis is not relevant and better support your topic argument.

Organize your thoughts

Once you have already written all the ideas on paper, you can now stop organizing ideas in your head and start looking at your document paragraph by paragraph and determine if there is a continuous flow of ideas or if what you have written is in line with the bigger picture.

Are there any ideas in the paper that you can delete or add to make your text clearer? Does a point or topic belong where it is? Reverse outlining can help you get answers to those questions.

Determine if you meet the writing goal

The hardest part about writing is getting your ideas out of your head and putting them on paper in a manner that your readers easily understand.

Writing a reverse outline helps you spot the main ideas in your paper and whether they are exactly what you planned to say. In addition, it helps you determine if you have used topic sentences correctly in your paragraphs.

Starting point for your revision process

The purpose of a reverse outline is to help you spot problems in your paper.

This makes it a helpful editing or revision tool, as you can use it to spot structural problems in your paper, paragraphs without a purpose, and whether you have fulfilled what you promised the reader in the intro. Use your findings to edit the text that dilutes your piece.

How to Write a Reverse Outline in 6 Steps

Here’s how you can write a reverse outline in six steps.

Begin with a draft

It doesn’t really need to be a complete draft. Even a partial draft is enough to review the organization of your ideas or what you have written. The benefit of having a draft is it helps you get a complete picture of how to structure your reverse outline.

Number your paragraphs

Do you know what readers mostly focus on when they get your paper? The paragraph, as opposed to sentences.

As a result, it is important to direct your focus and attention towards paragraphs and not sentences. You can achieve this by numbering your paragraphs appropriately.

Outline key ideas

Reverse outlining helps you remember what you were trying to put in each paragraph. As a diagnostic step, your work is to note down what each paragraph was trying to do and not to remedy nor make adjustments.

To do so, examine the structure of each paragraph, looking for the topic sentence. Besides, look out for evidence supporting the topic sentence. You may be needed to look beyond the details in your sentences or essential structure to get these ideas.

Analyze this outline

Now it is time to analyze your outline. Here, look out for the internal organization of your ideas. How are your ideas, logic, or points placed in relation to one another?

You can find this by examining how much space or time is devoted to a particular element. The aim of analyzing your outline is to know what you have and prepare how to create something new.

Create a revised outline from the analysis

The previous two steps should enlighten you on the potential weakness in your draft, which can be in the allocation of space for points or order of your points.

From this analysis and information collected, you may now create a revised outline and use that outline to reorganize your draft.

Check for cohesion in your paragraphs

With your outline and revision already done, find if your new paragraphs meet the goal of the paper. Your new text may be better or worse.

In the case it is still worse, where there is not enough argument to support your topics or have devoted little time or space on a point, identify the topic sentences in the paragraphs and whether they have been used effectively to develop logical arguments.

Besides, identify if there are still paragraphs with too many ideas and whether ideas are logically linked with one another.

Here’s a useful video by Jefferson Multimedia on writing cohesive paragraphs.


7 Tips to Consider While Writing a Reverse Outline

New to reverse outlining? Here are seven tips to consider.

Find the goal of the paper

The main purpose of a reverse outline is to find out if your material meets its goal. As a result, be sure to determine the real purpose of the paper.

Without knowing why the writer is writing or the action the writer wants the reader to do after reading the text, the reverse outline won’t be useful.

Begin the process after writing the draft

Reverse outlines are easy to create when you still have all the ideas running in your head. The trick is to start reverse outlining immediately after going beyond the planning phase and representing your ideas in paragraphs, sections, and sentences.

Give yourself some time, and you risk reworking the entire organization of your paper.

List your points on another piece of paper

In most cases, you will find writers writing their reverse outlines on the margins of the draft. However, for easy reference, list your points on a fresh piece of paper. This is so ideal when using a reverse outline as a revision tool and also during peer review.

Your peers can easily understand what you are saying by reading the reverse outline without getting distracted by the draft. Let’s check out the image below to help you visualize how your reverse outline should look like.

Be brief

You are not writing another draft, and so complete your points in as few words as possible. Write a one-sentence summary on each paragraph or around 4-10 words. This is how you are going to be left with the paper’s main points for easy analysis.

Move topic by topic or paragraph by paragraph

When writing a reverse outline, read one paragraph at a time. While doing so, note down the ideas in each paragraph.

List these points starting with the main point at the top. Where you find problems in your document, note or highlight what you need to remedy. Avoid editing your document right away.

Develop your own code of constructing a reverse outline

We already know that a reverse outline is a representation of your ideas in a draft. Now, there are many ways of summarizing these ideas or making these representations. You can use a numbered system, symbols, or brief phrases.

Whatever methods you use, there are outlining conventions to follow.

First, start the outline with the main idea or topic, then group similar information into one group. For example, A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. Besides, they should be logically linked, for instance, 1 leading to 2. Consider also visually representing your supporting ideas.

Check paragraph length

Another factor to consider when reverse outlining is paragraph length. Are your paragraphs too short or too long?

You can spot unusually long or short paragraphs by counting the total number of sentences or words per paragraph. If your paragraphs are too long, you may need to split them into two or more paragraphs, and if short, add more supporting text.

Conclusion

Reverse outlining might take an opposite approach from traditional outlining. But that’s what makes it highly effective in diagnosing and fixing structural problems in your paper. It also helps you be better at editing your work.

We hope that the above points will help you create better reverse outlines you can easily use for revision or strengthening your paper. Besides that, be informed that reverse outlines can be created more than once, especially if you have made many changes in your paper.

The good thing about working with Writers Per Hour is that we manage the entire end-to-end process of writing an academic paper. From creating outlines and reverse outlines to writing the paper, editing, and revising it -- we deliver a high-quality paper that is sure to get you the grades you desire.