Sample Backwards Outline

A backwards outline identifies the main points and progression of ideas in an essay after the essay is written. Backwards outlines can help students:

  • Identify problems in organization in their own and their peers' essays (too many subjects in one paragraph, shifts from topic to topic without transition, lack of flow, etc.).
  • Identify problems with the evidence in their own and their peers' essays, since the condensed form makes it easier to see whether evidence supports the points.
  • Take notes on their own or a peer's essay (or any other essay they read) and easily refer back to passages.

The following sample instructions show how you can teach students to make backwards outlines to assist them in reviewing their peers' essays. These instructions can be adapted to assist students in reviewing and revising their own essays.

Backwards Outline Workshop Instructions

  1. For each paragraph of your partner's essay:
    • Identify and paraphrase the topic of the paragraph—what it "says."
    • Identify what the paragraph does—its purpose and connection to the essay.
    • Put the above items in a table or outline format (or use the margins of the essay).
    • Review the outline and identify the structure of the essay's organization.
  2. Considering the overall organization of your partner's essay, answer the following:
    • How well does the essay flow from beginning to end?
    • Where does the organization not make sense or lose its flow?
    • What can the writer do to fix any problems?
    • Are there transitions between paragraphs?
  3. Considering the overall organization within paragraphs:
    • Does each paragraph focus on one main point?
    • Are there paragraphs where the point is not clear, or where 2-3 unrelated points are raised?
    • Do other sentences in the paragraph work to support the main point?
    • Are there transitions between ideas within the paragraph?
    • Does the order of ideas make sense?
    • What can the writer do to fix any problems?