A regular outline helps to plan out what you are going to write before you start an essay. A reverse outline allows you to check on your paragraph organization after you’ve written a draft. It helps you decide whether your paper presents information in a logical order before you submit your work, and it can also help you check if your paragraphs are focused.

Follow these steps to create a reverse outline:

  1. Condense

Summarize each paragraph of your paper with a single sentence. As you write your summaries, ask yourself, “What point am I making in this paragraph?”

Tip: Some people like to write these summaries in the margins of their essays. This lets them see the sentence right next to the text. Others like to write them out on a separate sheet to create a list.

  1. Evaluate

Read the sentences you have written in order to determine if your summary tells the “story” of what your paper is about. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my introduction state the overall purpose of my essay?
  • Does my story follow a clear path from one idea to the next or does it jump around?
  • Were any paragraphs too broad to be condensed into one sentence?
  • Did any of my paragraphs fail to support the thesis?
  • Did I repeat myself?
  • Does my conclusion summarize my main points and the significance of my thesis?
  • Are any of my paragraphs the same length as their summary sentence?
  1. Revise

Fix any problems you identified during the evaluation stage. Try these strategies:

  • Revise your introduction to state the thesis you are trying to prove.
  • Rearrange the order of the paragraphs to match the story you want to tell.
  • Rewrite any unfocused paragraphs so they have one main point each.
  • Connect the main point of the paragraph to your thesis by stating its significance or impact.
  • Merge or eliminate any paragraphs that make the same point to avoid repetition.
  • Revise your conclusion to include the significance of your thesis.
  • Fill in the gaps in your argument with significant research and/or analysis.

Example of a reverse outline:

Thesis: As the needs of elders evolve in the 21st century, elder care facilities are changing how care is provided and how facilities are managed.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Paragraph 2: Elder care facilities are working towards better patient care by improving the atmosphere within the facility.

Paragraph 3: Elder care facilities are switching to more collaborative leadership models such as horizontal management structures.

Paragraph 4: Elder care facilities are working to care for all aspects of patients’ health, not just physical health.

Paragraph 5: In addition to creating collaboration within individual elder care facilities, administrators should also reach out to other medical professionals to influence change.

Paragraph 6: Conclusion

In this example, the paragraphs do not follow a clear path from one idea to the next. To fix this, paragraph 3 and paragraph 4 need to switch places so that the two points on patient care are together, followed by the two points on facility management.