By Angelo Sisante
Sometimes, despite all the planning, drafting, and brainstorming that you put into your paper, it still doesn’t make sense. Your ideas are all over the place, you feel like you are repeating yourself, and you’re entering panic mode. What do you do? Enter the Reverse Outline.
The Reverse Outline is a tool used to visualize the organization of your paper. Traditionally, Reverse Outlines use the subject sentence summary method. Essentially, you look at each paragraph, determine the topic of the paragraph, and then write a short sentence summarizing the topic. This allows a writer to see the progression of thought behind the paper’s organization; however, it also tests the organization of the paragraph. If you can’t summarize your paragraph in one sentence, then you know the paragraph is convoluted with too many subjects.
If you want to take it a step further, then I recommend the two-sentence subject and function method. Not only would you test the organization of the paragraph, but you would also describe the function of the paragraph with regards to your thesis: to compare, to support, to contrast, etc. This allows you to not only visualize the progression of thought, but also the cohesion of the paragraphs with respect to each other and your argument.
With that, lets put it to the test with this arbitrary thesis and paragraph:
Although cats are sometimes preferred for their independence, dogs are the superior choice of house pet due to the companionship and health benefits they provide through their energy.
(1) Dogs provide owners with a feeling of companionship through their energy. The energy level of a dog requires the owner to take them outside to run and play. This action develops a relationship between the two; dogs demand attention, but provide loyalty in return. Cats, on the other hand, are more independent. They are content with playing alone, and with the use of a litter box, they do not require the owner to take them outside. While cats can be loyal animals, their general pattern shows more independence and less companionship. (2) Furthermore, cats are commonly associated with pet allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, cat allergies are “twice as common as dog allergies” (AAFA). Therefore, dogs not only encourage companionship, but also are less likely to irritate allergies.
Using the example thesis and paragraph, let’s create a reverse outline! We need to create one sentence defining the subject of the paragraph and another describing the function of that paragraph.
Subject: Dogs are better house pets than cats because they provide companionship through their energy level. They are also less likely to irritate allergies compared to cats.
Function: The function of the paragraph is to compare dogs and cats on companionship and allergy likelihood.
Wait a minute; there’s a problem with our subject sentence. The paragraph has two subjects—companionship and allergy irritation. By writing a subject sentence, we were able to determine that this paragraph needs to be split into two, one concerning companionship and another concerning allergy benefits. The function is still to compare, but by having two subjects, we realize this paragraph is disorganized.
Notice how one idea exists after the notation (1), but a new idea is formed after notation (2). If we split the paragraph at (2), then we can re-write the subject and function sentences for (1).
Subject: Dogs are better house pets because they encourage companionship through their energy.
Function: The function of the paragraph is to compare dogs and cats on companionship.
Writing these sentences in margins encourage the writer to find the singular idea and purpose for each paragraph while also allowing them to visualize how the paper is developing. Next time you feel like your paper is not making any sense, give the reverse outline a try.
AAFA. Allergic to Your Pet? Learn About Dog and Cat Allergies. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Oct 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016. <http://www.aafa.org/page/