Do you have a hard time revising your papers for organization? Writing Center consultants Sandy Branham and Meagan Araujo find reverse outlines to be very helpful.
Often, we focus on outlining as a prewriting tool, but it can be just as useful after you have something written. Specifically, it helps writers check to see if they have written what they have set out to write. Reverse outlining also helps writers identify their main points, decide which order to present them, and verify if they presented sufficient supporting material.
Here’s how it works:
The process is simple: we simply read through the paper paragraph by paragraph, stopping after each paragraph to discuss the function/purpose of the paragraph. If the student identifies the paragraph as serving more that one main purpose, we discuss whether or not the student should separate the differing ideas to create two cohesive paragraphs, each with a clear and definite purpose.
If a student identifies a paragraph as having no purpose, we talk about what it would be useful for the paper to do at this particular point, allowing the student to redraft the paragraph with a clear purpose in mind.
After identifying a purpose for each paragraph, we are able to discuss the ways in which each of the paragraphs relate to one another, considering whether the student can move paragraphs around in order to increase the overall effectiveness of the organizational system in use in the paper.
So, the next time you are ready to revise, take the time to create an outline based on what you have written. Ask yourself, “What is the point of each paragraph?” Then, check to see if have made your points in a logical succession. Finally, verify your supporting material.