Tag Archives: outline

Don’t be scared, just make an outline

by Bubba Sugarman

If you’re like me, a blank piece of paper and a writing prompt can be quite frightening. So much potential, so many things to say. But how, and in what order? It’s times like these when I remind myself to start with a simple outline. Creating an outline is an excellent way to start getting your ideas on paper. 

Start your outline by choosing a topic. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect yet; nothing is set in stone.) You want your topic to encompass ideas you find interesting and wish to discuss. As you continue to do your research and write your paper, your topic may change a little bit, and that’s okay.

Once you have your topic, begin to think about some ideas that support it. Think about the questions you have and how you will answer them. Start to group these questions into main ideas that you can explore. These main ideas will become the body paragraphs of your paper, so write them in order on your outline. Once you find your main ideas, organize them in a way that makes sense. I like the think of my writing as a conversation, predicting the reader’s questions and answering them before they ask. In this way, I arrange my main ideas to ask and answer questions in an order that flows logically.

Now it’s time for some research. Find information about your topic and remember that as you continue to do research, you may find unexpected ideas to include in your paper. The more you know about your topic, the stronger your paper will be, so don’t be afraid to chase leads and learn all you can. From the information you gather, find evidence that supports your main ideas. The more supporting evidence you find, the more concrete your ideas will become. Remember to make a note of where you found the supporting information; it will help you find it again when you write your paper. In your outline, write supporting ideas under their respective main ideas.

Now, with your developed outline, your paper will write itself. Just start writing. Use the outline you have made as a roadmap and work your way through your paper by letting your outline guide you. Answer the questions that your main ideas inspire, and use the supporting evidence you have gathered from your research to support your ideas.  Always remember that an outline is a great way to beat that scary blank sheet of paper.

 

Bubba Sugarman is a business major who also happens to be a writing tutor. You can find him playing cello in the Principia Orchestra, fighting fires with the Principia Fire Brigade, or playing rugby with the Thunder Chickens. Bubba spends the little free time he has skeet shooting, flying planes, djing, woodworking, riding horses, and of course studying.

Students’ advice for students: Issue trees

by Stuart McFall

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

I think that when it comes to revising and editing, a writer should have a strategy that works well for them to structure and develop their ideas. I think it is important to have a well-organized piece of writing so that the content is more easily understood. A great strategy that writers can use is called an issue tree. Issue trees make it easy for a writer to expand on their ideas, revise their content, and organize their work into a well-structured piece of writing. It is important for a writer to have a well-structured piece because it makes the reader’s job a lot easier. It also helps a writer expand on the main idea to write a fully developed piece of writing.

Making an issue tree is very simple. Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. (You’ll need a pencil with an eraser to make any changes to your issue tree.) Draw a small circle at the top of your paper large enough to fit the topic of your paper in it. Write your topic, or your thesis if you have one, in that circle. Now draw more circles below your topic for each of your main points. Once you have done this, expand on each topic by drawing more circles underneath each main idea-circle. Fill this third tier of circles with specific statements, ideas, or questions you have for each main point. Continue to expand each idea and sub-idea into more circles until all your topics are expanded to your satisfaction. Finally, organize your tree into a structure that makes sense for the topic of your paper. If this means you need to take out parts or move parts around, do so.

I have used this strategy before in an assignment for Fiction Writing class. We had to write a personal story from someone else’s perspective. I built my issue tree, organized it, and then wrote my paper from that issue tree. It helped me organize the plot of the story really well so that it was easy for the reader to follow. It also helped me expand each of my main plot points for the story. I felt the issue tree really helped me write something great, and that’s why I use this strategy for a lot of my papers. I hope you try this out with your own writing and see how well it works for you.

 

Stuart McFall is a junior majoring in business administration and minoring in economics.

How to write a research paper without feeling overwhelmed

by Laura Tibbetts

  1. Find a topic that interests you. Even if professors assign an overall topic for the paper, the topic will often be broad enough for you to find some aspect of it that interests you.
  1. Get sources. Use the library, I-Share, and databases to collect as many sources as you need about your topic.
  1. Research! Skim or browse through all the sources you’ve found, taking note of information that strikes you as particularly relevant to your topic or that provides an interesting opinion/perspective. Be on the lookout for short passages where an author expresses an idea clearly and concisely, because those passages may be useful to quote later in your paper. This stage of the process would also be a good time to start a bibliography so that you can keep track of your sources.
  1. Formulate a thesis. Based on the research you’ve done and the different opinions you’ve found on your topic, come up with a specific and arguable thesis—one that shows what the focus of your paper will be and illustrates your opinion about a question/perspective on your topic that came up in your research. Your thesis can always evolve as you write your paper.
  1. Outline. Now that you have a specific topic and thesis, make a basic outline with an introduction, conclusion, and the main topics supporting your thesis that you want to cover in the body of your paper. Add a few supporting points under each main topic. After making the basic outline, expand it by adding details to all of your paragraphs in the outline, and include specific quotes, paraphrases, or summaries from what you’ve found in your research (don’t forget to cite your sources!). Sandwich the research in between your own thoughts and opinions about the research. (See “A quote sandwich to remember.”)
  1. Make the outline into full sentences. You essentially already have your paper—now you just need to turn all the phrases in your outline into full sentences. You may need to add transitions so that everything flows smoothly, as well as introductory and concluding sentences to each paragraph.
  1. Revise and edit. This is arguably the most important step in the process of writing a paper, so make sure you leave enough time for as much revising as possible. It doesn’t matter if your initial paper is terrible; as long as you devote enough effort to this stage, you could still end up with a great paper.

One of the benefits of this process is that if you follow it, you entirely avoid the problem of staring at a blank page and trying to create a paper out of thin air. Breaking up the process into steps has made writing research papers much less overwhelming for me, and I hope you find it useful as well!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Taking notes like a pro

by Meg Andersen

Learning how to take notes effectively is one of the best skills to master in college. Whether you prefer taking notes with pen and paper or using programs such as Evernote or MS OneNote, here are a few strategies to help you retain the right information when taking notes in class:

Be organized.

Have separate notebooks (physical or digital) for each class. Whether you organize your notes by chapter, topic, or date, be consistent about how you store your notes. You will be glad you did when it is time to study for the test! One advantage about using Evernote or MS OneNote is that you can search your notes for keywords. Being able to quickly find something in your notes can make studying much more efficient.

Do the reading.

This may sound obvious, but coming to class prepared makes taking notes much easier. It’s hard to recognize the most important points of a topic that you aren’t prepared to discuss. Being prepared might take more time, but you’ll feel less stressed and more confident about engaging in the class. And you’ll learn more.

Listen for cues.

If you’re listening to a lecture and feel lost as to what you should be jotting down, try listening for some basic cues. First, listen for the big ideas. What is the main topic of the lecture? Professors generally emphasize points by

  • repeating them,
  • giving specific examples, or
  • summarizing them at the end of their lecture.

If you are viewing a PowerPoint, it’s okay to politely ask if the PowerPoint will be available on Blackboard. If the presentation will be viewable later, spend more time listening and less time writing down everything on every slide. If the presentation will not be on Blackboard, don’t worry—just record the key points. They are probably headings or in a bolder typeface.

Separate ideas.

When taking notes, most students prefer the rough outline format. With any format, be sure to leave space between points so that you can add other ideas later on, if needed. Taking notes in a slightly more spread out format can also leave room for jotting down questions that you think of during the lecture which can be asked at an appropriate time.

These are just a few ideas that have been helpful in my experience! I recommend checking out Evernote or MS OneNote if you haven’t tried them, and do what works for you!

Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.