Originally mentioned to me by Terry Royce of the Graduate Research School, a reverse outline is a tool that can help you analyse and critique the logical progression of your argument through your draft.
How to create a reverse outline:
- Write a perfectly normal rough first draft
- Abandon it for at least 24 hours so you can see it clearly
- Number each of your paragraphs.
- On a separate piece of paper or document write the main point and any sub points for each numbered paragraph. Note: If you can't describe the main point of the paragraph, it's a pretty good indicator that you need to rewrite it.
- Analyse your outline to see if your argument is logical and if you need to alter the text
This is a rather simplistic version which is expanded by Rachael Cayley in her blog Explorations of Style and also by the Northcentral University Writing Center. They encourage you to look for more than just the topic of the paragraph, but also how it is structured. Breaking down your drafts this way can help you chunk your editing into manageable pieces and will hopefully stop you going crazy.
If you're unsure about how to write a nifty paragraph, I highly encourage you to read Rachael's guide to writing paragraphs and also take a look at the advice of our very own HELPS team.