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Reverse Outlines: An Advanced Editing Technique to Improve your Application Essays

Tear your essay apart to make it better.

This doesn’t sound like solid writing advice, but it’s a technique advanced writers use all the time to ensure their drafts follow a logical structure. Reverse outlines help writers produce successful pieces.

Just as redoing a math problem verifies the solution, reverse outlines work because they force writers to look at how well they executed their writing plan, or outline.

How to create a reverse outline

Step 1 - Begin with a completed draft

Step 2 - Summarize the main ideas - Write a summary sentence for every one of your paragraphs. If a paragraph contains more than one idea, it does not follow English writing expectations and must be broken down into two or more paragraphs. If you cannot identify a main idea, the paragraph is either unnecessary or needs clarity.

Step 3 - Construct a sentence set - Put each of the summary sentences into a new document in the order in which they appear in your paper. When you are done, your document will look like this:

  1. I have always been attracted to novelty.

  2. In Kindergarten, I chose to learn the accordion because I found it to be a “curious instrument”.

  3. But that wasn’t enough excitement, so I added piano and vocal lessons to my repertoire.

  4. The way I taught myself new musical skills was novel, as I shirked mechanical repetition for rhythm games.

  5. In high school, I introduced more novelty into my life; I moved beyond my school's core curriculum to teach myself coding, take off-campus art classes, and enroll in a writing class.

  6. I love sharing my appreciation for novelty with others.

  7. One way I do this is through game design.

  8. Game design brings all of my seemingly disparate skills (music, story-telling, art, and coding) together into one medium.

  9. Now I am ready to take my interests further with a bachelor’s degree in game design, which will not only challenge me in a multitude of ways but bring novelty to my players.

Step 4 - Assess the sentence set for the big picture - Ask yourself: Has the writing prompt been fully addressed? Is the thesis supported?

Step 5 - Assess the sentence set for organization - Review the order in which you present your points. Ask yourself: Is the order logical? Does it make sense for the reader? If not, reorder the sentence set so that the organization is coherent and compelling.



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