Reverse Outlining (an Organization Strategy)

by Fain Riopelle


You may already know about the useful aspects of outlining. It allows writers to organize thoughts and ideas before drafting to get a broader perspective on how best to meet the purpose of the piece. Outlining is a useful strategy to make drafting more efficient and effective. If you have a plan, it’s a lot harder to steer off course.

That said, sometimes, we steer off course anyway. That’s where reverse outlining comes in. If outlining is mapping out what you’re going to write, then reverse outlining is mapping out what you’ve already written. It’s a way of making sure you’re staying on topic and your ideas are in the most effective order.

Why reverse outline? Haven’t I suffered enough while writing?

If outlining helps you plan out your first draft, reverse outlining can help plan out your revisions. It can sound a bit tedious, but it can help clarify your thoughts and get you back on track.

It can also be a bit tricky to figure out what you’ve actually written, as opposed to what you thought you were going to write when you started. It might help to let it sit for a day or so–or an hour, depending on your time frame.

How does it work?

Simple, you start by determining the purpose of each paragraph. What is the point of this paragraph? What’s it supposed to be about? You write what each paragraph is about in the margins of the paper.

Then, you can do two things: 1) See if the ideas of the paper are in the order you want them in. 2) See if each sentence of your paragraphs relates to the topic of that paragraph.

If you’re unsure what a paragraph is supposed to be about, that should be a red flag that the paragraph has no point or that it has more than one. Either way, you’re learning something that should help you during the revision process.

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