Lots of writers use an outline to organize their thoughts before they begin writing.



But an outline can also be useful AFTER you’ve written a draft and are ready to revise. This particular kind of outline is known as a REVERSE outline.



No, not like that.


A reverse outline is a kind of record of what you’ve already written—which may not be exactly what you intended to write.


This can help you get back on track and fix any problems with your paper’s organization.


It can also show you new directions that your writing might take into previously unexplored territory.


Here’s how it works.


Say you’ve written a paper about your university’s traditions.


As you read over what you’ve written, identify what each paragraph is focused on. You can either write this on a separate document or just jot it down in the margin.


Writing out the focus of each paragraph or section in this way will allow you to see any disconnects, gaps, or overlap. For instance, you might realize that one of your sentences in a paragraph has veered off topic.


Or you might decide that you want to swap some things around to make your argument more effective.


If you find unnecessary repetition, you can decide if you want to move or cut that material, whether at the sentence level or across the entire document.


You may want to add an additional step to reverse outlining. In the opposite margin, write down the purpose of that section of the paper.



In other words, write down what that paragraph is trying to accomplish, and how it supports the point you are trying to make.


Writing this out in the margin can help you see how the paragraphs or sections of your paper are working together to accomplish your purpose.


Reverse outlining can also be used as a study technique. When you’re reading for class—especially if it’s something dense or hard to understand—you can create a reverse outline to ensure you’re getting the main points.


Once you get the hang of it, reverse outlining can be a really useful tool, especially if you are one of those people who’s naturally a little dis-organized.


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Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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