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Reverse Outlining: A Method for Effective Revision of Document Structure

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1 Author(s)
Cynthia L. King ; Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey

Problem: One of the biggest problems with student and novice writing is that it often lacks clear organization and a coherent structure. However, it is difficult for newer writers to conceptualize a clear structure prior to writing a first draft. Thus, there is a need for an effective process to help writers revise early drafts with a particular focus on organizational clarity. Key concepts: Two concepts underlie this issue. The first is revision, which is the process of changing text to better achieve the writer's goals and serve the reader's needs. Two general categories of revision exist: a comprehensive edit (a thorough review of content, organization, visual design, style, illustrations, accessibility, and reuse to best serve readers) and a copyedit (a review of proper adherence to accepted language standards, which includes attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure). The second is organizational structure (the arrangement and relationship of ideas), which is critical to help readers understand and use the information in the document. Key lessons: A reverse outline-a process that helps improve document structure and organization from an early draft-was developed to help writers make the organizational structure of an existing document to assess and improve the structure in a subsequent revision explicit. Reverse outlining has four steps: (1) identifying and listing discourse topics from a written draft, (2) arranging the discourse topics into an outline, (3) assessing the structure for appropriateness to audience and purpose, and (4) creating the new structure, modifying content where necessary, and adding headings, bullets, overview statements, and other advanced organizers. The reverse outlining process has been used extensively in the classroom and in the workplace.

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication  (Volume:55 ,  Issue: 3 )