Using Reverse Outlining to Evaluate Sources

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
Throughout your education and in your future career, evaluating sources will be important. This lesson discusses how the tool of reverse outlining can help you to evaluate sources more effectively.

What is Reverse Outlining?

Outlines can be very useful in creating coherent essays, novels, or other longer pieces of writing. But did you know that outlines can also help in analyzing long pieces of writing? Sometimes it is easy to get lost in a marathon of sentences and paragraphs, but outlines can pull out the main points and make the connections between them clearer. Making outlines for already-written pieces of writing is called reverse outlining.

Reverse outlining is like regular outlining but after the text is written

The Process of Reverse Outlining

The process of reverse outlining has several steps. The first step in reverse outlining is to identify the main argument. This main argument should be written in one sentence in the reverse outline. The second step in reverse outlining is to go through each paragraph and, in as few words as possible, describe the topic of each paragraph. The third step is to go back through each paragraph and look at how the topic of each paragraph relates to the main argument of the paper. A reverse outline should look like this:

Main argument: a concise sentence to describe the main argument

  • Paragraph 1: topic of paragraph; how it relates to main argument
  • Paragraph 2: topic of paragraph; how it relates to main argument
  • Paragraph 3: topic of paragraph; how it relates to main argument
  • Paragraph 4: topic of paragraph; how it relates to main argument
  • Paragraph 5: topic of paragraph; how it relates to main argument

You can create your reverse outline on another piece of paper, or you can also write the outline in the margins of the essay for which you are making a reverse outline.

Evaluating Sources through Reverse Outlining

Now that you know more about the process of reverse outlining, how can you use that reverse outlining as a tool for evaluating sources?

When evaluating sources, you want to first decide what the source is arguing. Reverse outlining helps you do that because you identify the main argument as well as other information about how the writing is organized.

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