Reverse Outlines: Discover Your Structural Problems
I recently completed the first draft of a 25 page critical paper, and read it once, twice, three times before thinking, “I’m brilliant.” Of course, this was simply my writer’s ego blinding me. When I got feedback from my mentor, my perfect paper was so full of red marks I didn’t know where to start.
Luckily for me, my mentor had some great advice to help me discover my own problems before I started on his notes. He mentioned that it can be difficult to see structural problems in an essay because the content can distract you, and in a 25 page paper, this is particularly true. He told me I needed to start my revision by returning to the basics—outlining. However, because I had most of my ideas already written, I could use a reverse outline. This process allows you to identify the main points of each paragraph by bullet pointing them, helping you see what your paper looks like with just the bare bones.
When I applied a reverse outline to my paper, I was very surprised to see the scattered formulation of my argument. However, I was now able to see what my mentor wanted from me. When the main ideas were in front of me, I could easily switch them around, place them with similar ideas, and eliminate the ones that didn’t support my thesis. I will never write another paper without this wonderful self-check method. The reverse outline has made me a better judge of my own work, and it’s much more reliable than my inflated writer’s ego.
Graduate Assistant – Virtual Writing Center