Pinker writes, “a coherent text is a designed object.” In The Sense of Style, he elaborates this point, telling the reader that writing must be connected logically.
This is often problematic. I find connecting writing most difficult when one must write freely, without an outline. I am what one would call, “a planner.” After analyzing a prompt, I write a rough sketch for what I want to include in my paper along with a thesis . Then, I’ll begin planning the meat of the piece. My preferred method is taking notes on the sources, whether they be academic or primary. I write down interesting (and hopefully relevant) quotes, along with the page numbers. From those, I look for common themes and group the information accordingly; I find it satisfying when they align perfectly with my initial sketch.
Then I progress to the outline. The themes become headings of the paper, and I then write points with the quotes or paraphrases from the sources underneath. Page numbers are of course, present.
I’ve noticed this method is effective for writing the body of a paper, but is not very helpful for the introduction. I find it most challenging to introduce a topic. Oftentimes, I write the introduction after having written the paper. Unfortunately with that method, the introduction and summary are nearly identical.
This has been my technique for history and anthropology papers. Other than a creative writing class, I have not written in another style.
This Honors class has challenged my preconceived notion for the superiority of the outline. I am more willing to attempt clustering when I am stuck. A clustering activity is particularly useful when ending a paper, as my troubles have suggested, or even coming up with a topic (as the particular instance I am going to write about will show). This past weekend, I wrote a three page essay on propaganda in Nazi Germany (for class German 112).
I originally wanted to write the paper on the Shutzstaffel, more commonly known as the SS. I thought it would be simple: split the paper into a section on history, then leaders, then divisions and their duties, and then their fate after the Second World War. However, three pages is quite limited, and I realized – surrounded by four books on the topic – there was no way I would be able to limit myself. I needed something more precise. I wrote down associations with the word Nazi. When I wrote down the name, Joseph Goebbels, propaganda came to mind. That was a topic which could be concise. A section on the propaganda minister, another on the types of media used, and one more on its common themes. That was my paper idea, and I was then able to outline efficiently.
However, I skipped the introduction to write the body of the paper and the conclusion.
A day after having written the paper, I went back to edit. I deleted my summary paragraph, due it’s total redundancy, and began anew. Some themes needed to be reiterated, which I stated. The ending however, per my professor’s instructions, required thoughts and observations on the topic. I played another game of word associations. Propaganda – advertizing! Joseph Goebbels was selling a product, and that product was National Socialism.
Writing this blog post, I realized how satisfying it is to implement ideas learned in one class for another. I have also been able to practice the free-write, and not be intimidated by a lack of outline.