Reverse Outlines

While outlines typically follow a particular structure and are completed as a prewriting strategy, reverse outlines work backward to reveal the structure of your written paper. This strategy is especially helpful when you’re looking at your work and feeling like the ideas are “all over the place” and jumbled, or if someone has suggested that a reorganized essay will make your argument clearer. The language in this handout is geared toward academic argument papers, but the same principles can be applied to other writing contexts.

Keep in Mind

  • Reverse outlining is very beneficial because it forces you to identify the essential parts of your essay. You will want use reverse outlining to ensure your thesis statement connects with your body paragraphs and your body paragraphs then connect with your sentences.
  • You will want to highlight your thesis statement and topic sentences to first check if your topic sentences support the main argument of your paper. If they do not match up, you will need to be sure to restructure and rewrite either the thesis or body paragraphs so they are working together.
  • Reread each body paragraph to ensure the body of your paragraph connects with the main topic sentence. It helps to label the theme of your sentences to see what ideas are actually present.
  • If you are looking at the labels for the themes of your sentences, and either they don’t seem to be matching up or you are seeing repeated themes throughout your paragraphs, then that’s a good sign your essay may need some restructuring.
  • When labeling the parts of your essay, you do not need to write in full sentences, but you can if that helps you stay organized.

Why should you reverse outline?

  • Reverse outlines help you become more aware of how ideas and themes fit together in an essay, which helps you become a stronger writer overall.
  • Reverse outlines identify strong areas and areas where you stray from the purpose.
  • Reverse outlines reveal areas of repetition and lack of clarity.
  • Reverse outlines are easy for someone else to look at and critique if you plan to meet with a Hub tutor or have your instructor verify you’re on the right track.
  • The more complete a reverse outline is, the clearer your structure will be; investing time and energy can pay off when you are able to restructure your paper for a more cohesive argument.


Coming soon.