Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Using Outlines To Organize Research Papers

Can't this paper just write itself?

My peers and I have often discussed our various methods for writing research papers. It definitely helps to develop a systematic approach that makes you feel comfortable as an individual writer because what works for me does not necessarily work for you, and vice versa. For example, there was a time when I disliked writing outlines. I felt they were a waste of time because I kept changing the content several times during my process of writing the outline. It seemed like I spent too much time on the outline, and it took all of my enthusiasm away from my writing.

Then I decided to omit the outline completely from the process. This resulted in more frustration because I found myself simply cutting and pasting various paragraphs, moving them to different locations in my research paper, and moving them again. My paper became an aggravating, unfocused nightmare. Instead of allowing the paper to write itself, I allowed the paper to become multiple pieces of a puzzle that simply did not fit together.

Q: How do I organize my thoughts?

When I went back to writing outlines, the writing process became much simpler for me. Here’s the process I recommend:

1) I take my list of thoughts and I number them
2) I try to assemble an outline based on my preliminary list
3) I change the order around a few times in the body of my outline to see which order makes the most sense to me
4) I ask a peer for suggestions

Example of an outline I may use:

A. Introduction (Halloween is a holiday rich in traditions such as x, y, and z. This introduction should include a brief history of the holiday and basic information that it is rich in traditions. I don’t need to start with a bunch of details because that is the function of the body of my paper).

B. Body
I. What makes Halloween such an exciting holiday? (Why do people like it so much, why has it stood the test of time, etc.)

II. What are the traditions and how did they become traditions?

III. Some problems that exist with the holiday (kids need to be careful by examining their candy, they should have an adult supervising them, and how the safety of the holiday has changed over the past 30 years.)

C. Conclusion (This culminates the main points in my paper. I want to be careful not to reiterate prior statements, but rather to summarize the main ideas instead. My last sentence is a general remark about Halloween being a holiday that everyone can enjoy.)

Q: But wait! What if I don’t like the way it’s organized after I put in all that work and my paper is now finished? I mean… how many times do I need to keep changing this thing? I want to finish this paper already!

I’ll simply go in and rework the order again and figure out if my transitions between one thought and the next make logical sense. For example, I may want to flip flop #2 in my outline with #3. Will that help my paper to flow better? I’ll look at both ways and see which one I like better.

I may even ask one of my peers to provide feedback if I am feeling unsure about my paper’s ability to flow well. My peer may see something that I missed. What does my peer think about the order of my paper?

I hope my suggestions have been helpful. When you write a paper, remember to take special care in writing your outline first, take your time, don’t get nervous or stressed out, and don’t try to write it all in one sitting. Give yourself enough time to play with the order of your outline before you sit down to write the paper. You don’t want to try and put everything together at the last minute.

Disclaimer: My suggestions are merely examples that can be used as guidelines. They are not the only way to organize your paper. These are simply the methods that have worked for me.
Fonda Ginsburg

1 comment:

  1. I like your idea of taking a list of thoughts and number them. That way, you can easily collect your idea as you write it down, and it numbering it would help label what is the most important of them all. Thesis outline can be easily written if you plan ahead and organize your idea.