Reverse Outlining


The best kept secret for making sure your papers are well organized and “flow.”

Outlines organize the ideas presented in a paper. Many people think of outlining as a first step in the writing process, but it can also be a productive tool for revision. Reverse outlines are created after a draft has been written, allowing you to see if your paper is well organized, where you need more or less research or discussion, and whether your paragraphs “flow.” You will need an extra sheet of paper or a blank document on your computer.

Ensuring Your Thesis Statement is Appropriate: If you had to sum up your whole paper in just one sentence, what would it be? Write this sentence at the top of the blank page.

CONSIDER:Does your thesis statement reflect what you’ve written in this one sentence? If not, you may want to revise your thesis to match the content of your paper more accurately or revise your paper to match the thesis statement depending on which one more closely follows your assignment guidelines.

Ensuring the Relevance of Your Paragraphs: Number each paragraph of your essay. On your separate page, write a ONE-sentence description of each paragraph next to its corresponding number.

CONSIDER: If you struggled to write a description in only one sentence, you may have too much dissimilar information in the paragraph. Try dividing the paragraph so that you can express each thought in one sentence.

CONSIDER: Does each paragraph have a topic sentence reflecting what you wrote for your paragraph description? If not, revise or add a topic sentence that will help your readers identify the main idea of each paragraph. If you have trouble writing topic sentences, start with the phrase, “This paragraph is about…,” but remember to delete this first part if you decide to keep the sentences in your final draft. For more help on paragraph organization, see our MEAL Plan handout.

CONSIDER: Does each paragraph description sentence clearly relate to your thesis/goal of the paper? If not, you need to take it out or revise it so they are related.

Ensuring the Organization of Your Essay: Look at the order of your one-sentence paragraph descriptions; think about them in relation to each other.

CONSIDER: Do you have paragraphs dealing with similar information scattered throughout your paper? You might reorganize them so that like information is together.

CONSIDER: Is the current order effective? Consider various organizational structures: local to global, problem to solution, chronological events, or weakest to strongest evidence, for example. What will work best for this paper?

CONSIDER: Do your topic sentences make sense in their current order? Does one idea follow logically from the one before it? Do you need to add transitional ideas or phrases anywhere?

Make any Final Revisions: Now that you have topic sentences clearly relevant to your thesis and paragraphs ordered appropriately, go through each paragraph sentence-by-sentence.

CONSIDER: Are there sentences that don’t seem to fit? You may need to eliminate or move them or clarify their connection to the topic sentence.



Steelman Versus Green Muscle

The world may be crashing down around its inhabitants, but one thing is for sure; many superheroes have been invented to protect the earth. They each have differing super powers: spinning webs, flight, x-ray vision, super strength, and so on. Two of the most famous superheroes are both geniuses. One is a highly intelligent physicist, and the other is a highly intelligent engineer. Which one is better? These two superheroes may make a great team, but if they were to fight each other who would win? This would be a close match. While both are highly intelligent, one chose the life of a superhero, and the other is a superhero by accident. One is capable of using his intellectual abilities while fighting crime; the other is controlled by his emotions, leaving the damage done to chance. Steelman is a more effective superhero than Green Muscle because his ingenuity allows him to use his head instead of his emotions when fighting battles.

  • The underlined sentence is the thesis statement, so the rest of my paragraphs have to be organized according to this sentence. It summarizes my whole paper.
    • If you’re having trouble writing the thesis statement, try starting the sentence with “This paper is about …” and finish the sentence.
    • “This paper is about why Steelman is a more effective superhero than Green Muscle.”
Tawny Stork, the man behind the steel suit, built his superhero status using his knowledge of engineering and continues to reason and use his intelligence during battles. Brace Bunner, the physicist who accidentally became Green Muscle, loses his head when he turns into the monstrous superhero. All of his intelligence ceases to exist when he becomes angry enough to become Green Muscle. When Green Muscle fights villains, the damage he does is accidental. He focusses his rage on whatever is antagonizing him at the time; it does not matter who or what it is. Steelman never loses the knowledge he has gained throughout his life. He is able to reason and outsmart his opponents. This gives him an upper hand over the villain with whom he has a conflict. This is a major factor that makes him a more effective superhero.

  • After you have written your topic sentence, the first sentence of the paragraph, think about how it is related to the thesis statement. Try making it into a question.
    • How does Tawny Stork’s intelligence make him a better superhero?
    • Tawny Stork is able to use reason and ingenuity to help him defeat his adversary.
*See our MEAL Plan handout for more information on paragraph development.

To print a copy of this handout, please click here.