Revising for Structure

Learning Objectives

  • Revise drafts for structure, using techniques such as a reverse outline

Revising for structure goes far beyond just making sure you have an introduction, body, and conclusion to an essay. When you revise for structure, you want to consider how well all the parts of the essay work together and whether the order of ideas makes sense. Does necessary background information come first? Is there a clear connection between evidence and your commentary on that evidence? Does all the necessary evidence appear in the body of the essay? An essay that delays key details, separates evidence and commentary, or introduces new evidence in the conclusion will likely be very difficult to follow and leave a reader with more questions than answers.

There are a few strategies to help you revise your essay’s structure globally—that is, strategies that help you consider the overall organization of the essay.

Write stronger introductions – both for the whole document and for major sections.

In general, readers like to get the big picture up front. You can offer this in your introduction and thesis statement, or in smaller introductions to major sections within your document. However, you should also consider how much time your audience will have to read your document. If you are writing for a boss who already works long hours and has little or no free time, you wouldn’t want to write an introduction that rambles on for two and a half pages before getting into the information your boss is looking for.

Look for a stronger thesis in the conclusion of the essay draft.

The “restatement” of one’s thesis in the draft will typically be a more clear and assertive version of the original thesis stated earlier in the essay. Alternately, it’s not uncommon for a rough draft to shift from its original thesis to a more nuanced argument in the process of drafting, and in this case there will be discrepancies between the original thesis and the conclusion of the draft. The most drastic version of this strategy is to remove one’s original introduction and replace it with the conclusion of one’s draft.

Consider audience receptiveness.

Many writers tend to address counterarguments and rebuttals in the last few paragraphs of an essay—after all, when drafting, it’s usually easier to think of reasons to support your position than it is to think of problems or limitations with your ideas. If you are writing an argument that you think (or know) your audience is likely to disagree with, consider using the Rogerian method of argumentation to address alternate or opposing views early in the body of the essay. In the Rogerian method, once you’ve acknowledged those perspectives and demonstrated your understanding of why someone holds those views, you can then state your own position and proceed with your argument by rebutting those opposing views. This type of argument can be extremely persuasive and can help you, as a writer, understand your own biases and how you might work to find common ground with others.

Cut up your essay.

This is a good strategy if you’re feeling particularly stuck in the revision process or just want to take a break from your computer screen. Format your essay so you have only one paragraph per page, and then print it out, making sure to only print on one side of the page. Once you’ve printed your essay, shuffle the pages and then spread them out. Now you can evaluate the order of paragraphs in the essay and easily move them around, trying out different ways of structuring your ideas. It can also be helpful to give the pages of your essay to a writing partner and ask him or her to organize them in a way that makes sense. Do the two of you agree on what structure makes sense? If you don’t, this is a great opportunity to discuss your ideas further with your partner.

Create a reverse outline.

Also called a post-draft outline, this strategy asks you to create an outline of the draft you just wrote. Creating a “macro outline” allows you to focus on the “big picture” of an essay’s main points and support by using short phrases or keywords. A reverse macro outline is useful when writing about a variety of ideas and issues where the ordering of points is more flexible. A “micro outline” gets into the drilled-down, specific details of the essay’s content. It is particularly useful when the topic you are discussing is complex in nature. When creating a reverse micro outline, it can also be useful to insert the quotations you plan to include in the essay (with citations) and subsequent analyses of quotes. Taking this extra step helps ensure that you have enough support for your ideas and that the order of evidence and commentary makes sense throughout the entire essay.

Watch It

A post draft outline can help you quickly see where you went with your essay and can help you more easily see if you need to make broad changes to content or to organizations. View the video below to learn more.

Try It

Consider this excerpt from an essay on children and smartphone usage. Once you’ve read the paragraphs, arrange the sentences below to create a macro reverse outline for the essay.

Having a video or TV on when a child is doing something else can distract them from play and learning, negatively affecting their development. Hours of background TV has also been found to reduce child–parent interaction, which has an adverse impact on language development. This displacement is a big concern: if kids are left with screen-based babysitters then they are not interacting with caregivers and the physical world. There are only so many hours in a day, and the time spent with screens comes at the expense of other, potentially better, activities.

Under-threes, in particular, need a balance of activities, including instructed play, exploring the natural environment, manipulating physical toys and socializing with other children and grown-ups. The rise in screen use means less of all of these things. “Parents need to think strategically,” says pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “If your child has 12 hours awake and two of those are spent eating, how will you allocate the rest of the time?”

The problem is that tablets are extremely appealing to children and adults alike. Thanks to their design, versatility and intuitive interfaces, tablets are a perfect way for children to draw, solve puzzles, and be entertained on the move. Combine that with marketing efforts of digital media companies and app developers – whose measure of success tends to be the amount of time people are glued to their creation – and you have a toy that’s difficult to pry out of tiny hands.

Many apps are designed to be stimulus-driven, with exciting audiovisual rewards for completing tasks. Christakis refers to this as the “I did it!” response, which triggers the reward pathway in the brain. “The delight a child gets from touching a screen and making something happen is both edifying and potentially addictive,” he says.