Editing: Reverse Outline


In this video we’ll demonstrate an editing technique to check your paper for content and structure. Readers expect you to present your ideas in a logical order and dedicate a balanced amount of words to each idea. Before writing we often create an outline to map out a logical order of ideas and try to determine how many ideas we can cover in sufficient detail, given our word count requirements. However, once we begin writing a draft it can often shift away from our original outline. To check your own writing to make sure your final structure is effective in conveying your ideas to readers, try a reverse outline. First, number each paragraph. Next, identify the main topic of each paragraph. If this is difficult to do, you might be trying to cover more than one main idea in a paragraph. Keep going with the reverse outline process and make a note to yourself for each paragraph where this occurs. You can watch our video on paragraph editing to help address this problem later. Now, rewrite your outline based on your current structure. Look at your outline and ask yourself these two questions. Are the ideas in the right order? Are the ideas covered in enough depth, and are they balanced? In this example, we have a paragraph covering the historical background to the problem at the end. It would probably be better if this context was established at the start of the paper, here. This is our revised outline. So, if the ideas are not in the right order, or if you haven’t covered the ideas in the right amount of depth, reorganise your outline to better fit your argument and edit your paper based on this revised outline. You can repeat this process as many times as necessary until you’re satisfied with the content and structure. It can be done on paper or on screen. If you’d like to learn more about reverse outlines, we recommend reading Rachel Cayley’s post in her blog ‘Explorations of Style’. For more information and resources, visit our website.

One Reply to “Editing: Reverse Outline”

  1. Thanks for putting up these videos, I've often wanted to go use my four checkups this semester but time is so limited this way I can watch them while eating a meal and be able to come back to them easily. Much appreciated!

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