Excerpt: Basics of Outlining
Now that you’ve got an idea, you’re going to sit right down at the computer and let ‘er rip, right? Well, you can do that and you’ll probably have lot of finessing and rewriting to do afterward. Or you might get stuck somewhere in the middle, wondering what to write next. Some people can effortlessly write off a first draft with no forethought at all, staying on track the whole time and doing only polishing-type revisions after the fact. For most of us, though, the drafting and revision process goes much faster and smoother with a little planning.
As an added bonus, if you ever wondered what on Earth an instructor meant by “flow,” organization is one of the two most common things “flow” actually refers to. (By the way, “flow” is a frustratingly vague word that means different things to different people. Always ask for clarification when you hear or read the word “flow” in an assignment.)
Outlines and Bullet Points and Roman Numerals, Oh My!
I hear you. “Oh, yay, outlining,” you say. “I thought this book was about making writing fun. You liar.” Ye of little faith. Outlining doesn’t have to be nearly as boring as it’s too often made out to be. And you don’t have to spend nearly as much time on it as you might think.
First off, unless you like all those multi-indented lines with different numbering/lettering schemes or bullet points, unless that ultra-organized, detailed planning makes your heart sing, forget about it. If you don’t already jump for joy at a well-organized list, it isn’t worth your time. You don’t need all that stuff to plan. You can do it much faster and freer without all the formatting. Here’s how I do it. If, like me, you don’t have to patience to be neat and tidy, you’ll find it gets the job done.
- Write down your main point, whether you’ve got a fully developed thesis statement or a quick phrase. Put it at the top of the paper, so when you find the paper again three days later, you’ll remember what it was for.
- You know you’ll have an introduction and conclusion of some type, so put them on the paper too. Put the introduction at the top, under your main topic, and the conclusion at the very bottom. Just mark the places. You don’t need to actually write these elements yet.
- Think of at least three big themes (a loose idea or a full-blown thought) to flesh out your main idea. Drink as much coffee as you need to make this happen while not harming your health. Write them loosely spaced between the introduction and the conclusion.
- Think of some sub-ideas (support points/subthemes) for each of those big themes. You’ve probably had enough coffee by now, so take a walk instead. It’s okay if your support is phrases or individual words at this point. It’s also okay if the writing wobbles a little and goes outside the lines. You did just drink a bunch of coffee and then exercise.
About the Book
Author: Connie B. Dowell
Genre: Non-Fiction, Educational
How would you like to
- perform with the passion of an Oscar winning actor,
- compete with the drive and fervor of an Olympic athlete, or
- teach like you’ve got a Nobel Prize slung around your neck
all while doing your homework?
Believe it or not, you can do all of this and much more in the course of writing your college papers. This book takes you through the overlapping stages of the writing process, using game mechanics, cooperation, and learning styles to help you have as much fun as possible and take charge of your own education. With exercises and activities for groups and individuals, this text focuses on the meat of writing, the big picture elements that matter most in both college papers and real world writing situations, all with an eye toward enjoyment.
Sit down, crack open this guide, and give your favorite notebook a big hug. You may not have a choice about writing your papers, but who says you can’t love them?
Connie B. Dowell is a writing center coordinator and freelance editor. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia and a Masters of Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University. She lives in Virginia with her husband, where they both consume far more coffee than is probably wise
Twitter at @ConnieBDowell
Facebook at facebook.com/editorcbdowell
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