How to write a Reverse Outline in Seven Simple Steps

Last Updated: 01 March 2022

How to create a reverse outline


You are used to creating an outline for your academic tasks. Creating an outline for your paper is essential because it trims your writing. You begin from a concept to the bigger picture of the end product.


When creating a reverse outline, you are doing the exact opposite. Unlike a typical outline that guides your structure and presentation, a reverse outline comes in to conceptualize your ideas, maintain flow and coherence, and solidify your writing. You achieve the benefits of outlining and more when you reverse outline a paper.


In this guide, we take you through the definition and purpose of reverse outlining and how to create a reverse outline in simple steps. We also provide you with a template and examples to get inspiration from and everything that will set you in the right direction when writing an essay or research paper.


What is a reverse outline?


Before we delve into its various uses, let’s begin by defining what a reverse outline is. A reverse outline refers to an outline of a paper—essay, white paper, personal statement, research paper, dissertation, or proposal with the supporting writing stripped off and only the main points, ideas, or statements -sometimes represented in the topic sentences, are left.


It is an outline primarily written after one has completed a paper. It entails a bulleted point of view of the structure of your paper because it highlights the main points. It is a condensed version of your paper, enabling you to test the logical sequence of ideas or points and use it differently.


Reverse outlining entails making an outline after writing an essay or paper. You begin from your end product to an outline. Here, for every paragraph, you highlight the main ideas or argument in a condensed format in the margins next to your paragraph. It involves producing an outline from your first draft.


Purpose of Reverse Outline


Reverse outlining is used in two major ways: writing and editing a paper (during the drafting stage) and taking notes as you read any text.


Editing, Revising, and Polishing tool


While writing might be the most challenging step in academic and professional writing, revising is twice as difficult as it is. In addition, maintaining objectivity when evaluating your writing can sometimes be a mountain of a challenge.


Here, reverse outlining helps you attain objectivity by pulling out the main ideas of your paper in the draft. You can then assess the flow, coherence, clarity, and continuity, which can help you reorder, reorganize, and revise your paper for success.


It is an effective step immediately after completing your first draft and turning it into a successful final draft.


When writing a reverse outline of your first draft, ask yourself:



Note-Taking Tool during Research


You can also use reverse outlining when tackling a large research project. In many cases, reading a lot of resources can confuse you. Therefore, to keep the ideas you are reading clear in your mind, you can create a reverse outline in the margins of the resources. You can equally do so on a separate sheet as you read through the sources. It is an effective note-taking method. When reverse outlining for research, write about 4-10 words summarizing the central argument of your author or the main ideas in the paragraph. You can later scan through the sources and find information to support your claims and arguments when writing your write-up. It is important to ask yourself:



Importance of Reverse Outlining


A common trend among top-grade students is ensuring perfection. One way they achieve excellent grades is through reverse outlining.


As soon as you master the art of reverse outlining, you are bound to enjoy the following benefits:


1. Organized and thoughtful writing


With the draft ready, you can use a reverse outline to organize the thoughts in your essay or paper. Then, you will realign the sentences and paragraphs to achieve a logical flow of ideas.


You are beginning from the bigger picture to the conception, which means you are leaving no stones unturned.


You can delete, rephrase, paraphrase, summarize, and realign sentences and paragraphs. It helps you compartmentalize points to where they belong.


2. Assess if your writing is a success


After writing, you will be worried about whether you meet the requirements set out in the rubric and prompt.


Creating a reverse outline for the first draft version of your paper helps you determine where you have erred. As a result, you can make the necessary changes. 


You can also determine areas you need to cut off from the paper and refresh your topic sentences depending on the thesis. Finally, you can anticipate what grade you will get with all the points in place.


You can compare the content and purpose of every paragraph to your thesis. If there is no link, you can delete, update, and rephrase your paragraphs.


3. Revising your paper


As explained in the previous section of this article, reverse outlining helps you spot the errors you have made when writing. However, we always insist on writing without perfecting.


And the reverse outlining process helps you bring your perfection game on. Used as an editing and revision tool, a reverse outline allows you to identify structural, stylistic, grammatical, and spelling mistakes in your paragraphs.


You can then revise the paper to ensure it meets its purpose. For example, you can cut out anything that decimates the gist of your essay. It also helps spot problems with balance, organization, and flow, which can help you revise the draft of your paper.


You can also spot problematic paragraphs and sentences containing little or too much information as you outline. Again, this can help you to restructure your paper.


Moving paragraphs


You can use a reverse outline to move paragraphs into a more logical and rhetorically effective order.


Besides, you can assess the order in which the paragraphs appear. And if there is disturbed flow, you can organize them for a logical flow of ideas.


Balancing and Focusing a paper


Reverse outlining can help you maintain a balance in your ideas, arguments, and thesis statement. For example, you can check whether your thesis implies you will give a number of ideas equal weight.


You can use the information to change the focus of your thesis than add content to your essay.


Checking topic sentence against the thesis


A reverse outline helps you check if your topic sentences are in sync with your thesis statement.


It helps you maintain only one idea per paragraph and ensure that the supporting points are relevant to the topic sentence.


Constructing transitions


Reverse outlining is beneficial in creating strong topic sentences that sound like good transitions.


The topic sentences that do not demonstrate a relationship between ideas in your paragraphs can always be spotted and revised through reverse outlining.


4. Identifying gaps in research and analysis


Making a reverse outline when you have a first draft can help you assess whether you have done enough research. It equally helps in determining if your analysis is watertight.


When writing the final draft, you can identify the unsupported arguments, missing parts of your document and re-trace your course.


You can brainstorm from your reverse outline how to expand or cut content in your paper. In addition, it enables you to contextualize your research when answering the prompt.


Steps to Create a Reverse Outline


Now that we know its definition, significance/purpose, and best practices, let us delve into the major steps one should take when reverse outlining. Here are the seven steps to take when writing a reverse outline:


1. At least have the first draft


To have a big picture of your written content, begin outlining when you are done with your first draft. Although you can also write a reverse outline as you write to follow through with your writing progress and process, it is advisable to do it after achieving the first draft.


2. List the thesis of your paper


On top of the paper, you are writing the reverse outline. But, first, write your thesis statement because you will use it to assess your draft.


3. Construct the outline


Read through your paper one paragraph at a time and write the main idea of each paragraph in the margins of the paper or a separate list in a clean sheet.


If the topic sentence of a paragraph provides a brief version of the argument in that paragraph, paste the topic sentence into your outline and use it as a summary of that specific paragraph


If there is no correlation with the central argument or thesis, write a one-sentence summary that expresses the main idea in the paragraph.


4. Number your list


For easier reference, maintain a unique numbering format for your outline. Numbering the ideas from the paragraphs helps you avoid confusion when tracing them in the draft. In addition, you can number the paragraphs for easier referencing. Remember to focus on paragraphs and not sentences.


5. Analyze the outline


Using the reverse outline you have created, assess whether your content meets the requirements, is organized and well-supported, and has a flow of ideas.


Examine if the points are in their rightful place. Then, look at how you present the main arguments, claims, and supporting evidence.


After you make your reverse outline, ask yourself the following questions:



6. Revise the Reverse outline


You are now aware of the weaknesses in your draft. Therefore, it is now time to allocate space for ideas, points, and aspects that will strengthen your paper. First, create a revised outline that creates a flow. Then, you can use this to reorganize, rephrase, and reset your paper.


7. Assess if there is cohesion in your paper


After revising your first draft, and before crowning it as a final draft, assess to ensure that each paragraph is coherent, clear, and concise. Check the topic sentences, supporting evidence, and concluding sentences. Equally, check if the transition words and phrases are well placed.


Correct the spelling and grammatical mistakes altogether and check if there is a logical sequence in your presentation of points.


Helpful Tips when Reverse Outlining


If you are doing a reverse outline for the first time or doing it wrongly, here are some tips that should work well for you.



  1. Identify the goal of your paper. When writing a reverse outline, you assess if your paper will cut it. Ensure that the purpose of your paper stays in your mind as you write the reverse outline.

  2. Write one when you have a draft. Although you can do a reverse outline using a partial draft to follow your process, it is recommended to create the first draft first then use the outline to turn it into a final draft. You can begin outlining immediately you have planned, written, and completed your first draft – with everything fresh in your mind.

  3. Use another piece of paper. Begin your reverse outline on a blank sheet of paper instead of the margins of your draft. This helps you save time. You can also reverse outline a peer-reviewed paper without printing it out.

  4. Maintain brevity. Read one paragraph at a time and briefly condense the ideas in the paragraph. Don’t beat around the bush. Instead, summarize everything in one sentence.

  5. Have a unique numbering format or code. Maintain the same format you have selected for your paragraphs to avoid confusion. For example, you can use numbers, roman numbers, or alphabets.

  6. Consider the length of paragraphs. If there are longer or shorter paragraphs than others, either split or add to them to attain a balance of ideas.

  7. Revise after outlining. After writing your reverse outline, revise your outline and then use the reverse outline to revise your paper if there are significant changes.


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Template for a Reverse Outline


Here is a perfect example of a good template you can use to create a reverse outline:


Thesis statement……………………………………………………….


Paragraph 1: Introduction


Hook statement……………………………………………………………


Background information………………………………………………………


Paragraph 2: The main idea or topic sentence and its purpose


……………………………………………………………………………………….


Paragraph 3: The main idea or topic sentence and its purpose


………………………………………………………………………………………..


Paragraph 4: The main idea or topic sentence and its purpose


…………………………………………………………………………………….


Last Paragraph: Conclusion


Summary……………………………………………………………………………..


Rephrased thesis statement……………………………………………………….


Final words…………………………………………………………………………..


Continue until all the body paragraphs in your paper are accounted for.


Example of a Reverse Outline


Here is an example of a reverse outline adopted from the LUC writing center.


Thesis: Deinstitutionalizing people with a mental health condition in the late twentieth century transformed the “hobo” into the “homeless person.”
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Paragraph 2: The image of the hobo before World War II
Paragraph 3: The image of the homeless person today
Paragraph 4: The effects of deinstitutionalization
Paragraph 5: A history of deinstitutionalization
Paragraph 6: A history of the depression; how the depression is both different and similar to the period of deinstitutionalization; incorrect beliefs about the causes and timeframe of deinstitutionalization
Paragraph 7: The Reagan administration’s policies on deinstitutionalization
Paragraph 8: The realities of life as a “homeless person” contrasted to the romantic notions of “riding the rails.”
Last Paragraph: Conclusion


Comments based on the outline example



Final Remarks


A reversed outline is an important revision and research tool that can be used in both academic and professional writing. Although you might have written an outline when planning your paper to help you structure and organize your ideas, a reverse outline comes after you are done with your first draft to assess the organization of your paper and how your thesis is developed in the paper.


A reverse outline helps in ensuring that the ideas are clear and flowing. It also helps in showing gaps in your arguments and research. Finally, it helps in the objective analysis of your paper so that you meet the instructions stated in the rubric or prompt.


To this end, we are optimistic that you can create a perfect reverse outline either when writing or when revising/researching.


Suppose you need some help in writing a paper. In that case, we have expert paper writers who can offer peer-to-peer support when writing your academic paper. They can create your paper outlines, write reverse outlines, and edit the paper to have a model paper you can use each time you are tasked with writing. As a result, you can expect high-quality paper from us to boost your skills and grades.