Step 2: Plan and organize


“Organize, organize, organize.” —Former U.S. Vice President, creator of the film An Inconvenient Truth, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore


Now that you’ve generated all sorts of great ideas and gathered your evidence, you’re ready to jump right in to writing, right? 

Oh, did you feel stomach tighten up there? Not surprisingly. For how will you keep all those ideas organized in your head? As smart as you may be--no, precisely because you are so smart and came up with so many good ideas—you likely won't be able to. Ideas are slippery, and having a lot of them buzzing around in your head and trying to organize them as you write—not to mention doing it in a language that may not be your first—can cause real stress!

Which brings us to a word that many students dread:

Actually, if you’re like most people, you probably do already make a “rough” outline—maybe the general topics of each section of your paper—and then start drafting. Even so, you’ll struggle, because you’ve still got too many free ideas floating around in your head like the 79 electrons in an atom of gold. And you’ll likely end up with a jumbled draft that will require more reworking later anyway.

What you need is a detailed outline—i.e., one that contains every single point you’re going to include in your paper (though not necessarily in complete sentences). It’s work, and it’s not glamorous, but it can be satisfying if you think of it as

  • doing some of your most important thinking, and
  • making the drafting of your paper MUCH, MUCH EASIER. Imagine building a cathedral without a precise blueprint. Imagine playing a concerto without sheet music You wouldn’t, so why would you think writing a paper should be any different? (Answer: There is something about words and ideas that tempts us to think we can fake it, take a shortcut, but we can’t.)

The payoffs, on the other hand, are large and numerous:

  • Since you’ve sorted and organized ALL your ideas beforehand, all you have to do when you draft is make sentences and paragraphs;
  • Anxiety drops further because you have less to worry about keeping straight in your head;
  • As you outline, you learn more, discovering connections you didn’t see before—or having to work them out more thoroughly;
  • You’ll save time: If you organize before you draft, you’ll have to do less reorganization and rewriting later;
  • You start from a more advanced place in your thinking, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated ideas come which you can work more easily into your paper.

Click to see a sample detailed outline and then construct your own.

- "My ideas are full of heads" ©2011, Mr. Fibble. All rights reserved.