Reverse Outlining – UNC Writing Center


You may have created an outline as part of
a writing assignment, but chances are, you completed this task before you started drafting
your paper. With reverse outlining, you create the outline
after you’ve written a first draft. Here’s how it works. Suppose you’ve written a paper for your art
history class about the Ara Pacis, a monument in Rome. You were supposed to describe the monument,
explain its significance and history, and compare it to another piece of art studied
in class. You think you’ve included some good information,
but you aren’t sure how effective your organization is. To make a reverse outline of your paper, read
it, preferably out loud, looking for chunks of information about a specific topic or idea. Next to each chunk, jot a few words that describe
what it’s about. Now, on a separate sheet of paper, list your
descriptions in the order that they occur. There’s your reverse outline! Now, ask yourself, how does this list flow? Is it clear how one idea connects to the next? Are there gaps in logic? Are you missing information? Are the paragraphs unified? You may discover, for example, that although
you were supposed to compare this monument to another one, that this information is nowhere
in the outline. Also, some paragraphs did not stick to one
main point, and you need to think about a logical order for this paper. Which idea should come first? The next step is to take the chunks and rearrange
them in an order that makes sense. Put together the chunks that sound similar. You can put in some headings to help with
sorting and then take them out later. At this point, break the chunks into paragraphs
and review your draft.

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