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:
I have always been attracted to novelty.
In Kindergarten, I chose to learn the accordion because I found it to be a “curious instrument”.
But that wasn’t enough excitement, so I added piano and vocal lessons to my repertoire.
The way I taught myself new musical skills was novel, as I shirked mechanical repetition for rhythm games.
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.
I love sharing my appreciation for novelty with others.
One way I do this is through game design.
Game design brings all of my seemingly disparate skills (music, story-telling, art, and coding) together into one medium.
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.