Once you have a complete draft of your paper, it is time to revise. One strategy for revising your paper is called a “reverse outline.”

Here’s how to create a reverse outline:

  • Number each paragraph in your draft. On a separate sheet, write the numbers in a column on the left side of the paper. Write your thesis or major claim at the top of the page.
  • For each paragraph in your draft, ask “what is this paragraph about?” or “what point is this paragraph making?” and write the answer beside the number on the separate sheet. When you’re done, you have an outline of the paper. This process tells you if your paragraphs are unified and developed.
  • If you have trouble summarizing a paragraph in one sentence or less, you probably have too many ideas in the paragraph. Break it up into two or three paragraphs, or get rid of the extraneous material.
  • If your summary is the same length as the paragraph, the paragraph is probably underdeveloped. Either develop the ideas further or consider whether it is part of an earlier or later paragraph.
  • If you can take a sentence from the paragraph to put into your outline, you are making excellent use of topic sentences, and your writing is probably clear. If you can’t, keep working on your topic sentence.
  • This reverse outline will provide you with a scaffold of how your draft progresses. You can use this to analyze, develop, and if necessary, improve your paper by asking:
    • Does each paragraph support or relate clearly to your thesis or main claim?
    • Is there repetition? Look for repetition or paragraphs that seem every similar. Maybe they could be combined or omitted.
    • Do any paragraphs seem unrelated to the rest? Reconsider why they are there.

Again, this is just one strategy for revising. Other strategies include:

  • Read your work out loud from start to finish. If you stumble over a sentence, you should probably revisit it and make changes.
  • Make a hard copy of your draft and read through with a pen. This will help you catch mistakes that you might not otherwise see on your computer screen.
  • Compare your paper’s introduction and conclusion. These should match up to one another: what you say you’ll do in your introduction should coincide with what you say you’ve done in your conclusion. If these don’t match up, review your paper and make changes where necessary (likely your introduction).

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