Ordering Chaos: Reverse Outlining Useful After Freewriting

Sometimes I have so many thoughts written up but a hard time putting them into a concise argument. To create order from chaos, I have learned to love a technique called Reverse Outlining.

In reverse outlining, you start with all of your scraps and freewriting. Print it up, and chunk it into meaningful units (topics, or ideally steps in your logical argument – even if you don’t know how they’ll all fit together yet). For example, one of my paragraphs was titled “Constraints make being original feel less risky” and the next one was “…especially for people in low power positions.” Don’t worry about the right way to do this part. It gets worked out sort of naturally.

Now write out an outline using the titles you gave things. Here’s your reverse outline. Now save a duplicate version of the file, and play around with different ways to order the outline. This really helps with finding an economical and compelling way to make your argument – and the bonus is that you’ve already written a lot of the material!

1. This process identifies that some parts are redundant, so you don’t have to edit them. This makes your writing cleaner and tighter and gives you more time to sleep and go out dancing. 🙂
2. It glaringly identifies gaps in your argument early on in the process – much better than identifying them once you’ve already crafted your elegantly phrased transition sentences, etc.

I did not invent this method but it works well. I’d love to hear what you think.

One Reply to “Ordering Chaos: Reverse Outlining Useful After Freewriting”

  1. Hi CaneelI agree with you. In my dissertation, I carried out an ethnography and I somewhat followed precisely what you mentioned here. To write and organize writing, both, at the same time is difficult, especially when you have to transfer everything from your memory.

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