how to begin to make sense of
the chaos of your research
Quiz: What works best for
"Before I start
writing a paper, I
a. "... ask a lot of questions to
myself about my topic."
b. "... just get started by
freewriting whatever comes to
c. "... start with big ideas and
d. "... create visual
brainstorms or mindmaps."
and for the live poll: http://www.polleverywhere.
Today You Have
*The following options are partially inspired by "Pre-writing techniques"
from Simpson College, http://www.simpson.
If you answered "a": The
Image: Oberazzi on
a. "... I like to ask a lot of questions to
myself about my topic."
Consider asking yourself questions to help you get thinking about
organizing your research. Here are a few ideas:
● What have I learned about my topic so far? What's most
● What am I arguing?
● How will I prove what I'm arguing? What evidence is most
● What are possible counter-arguments?
● How will I make my reader care?
Now that you have your questions, start to answer them.
Want more ideas? Go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for Prewriting Ideas.
If you answered "b": The Free
Image: jjpacres on
b. "... I like to just get started
by freewriting whatever comes to mind."
The Free Spirit
Free your mind! Rules of freewriting:
● There are no rules.
● Don't judge your ideas or grammar--just write.
● Try to write for as long as possible without stopping,
ideally 10-15 minutes.
● If you are lost, write for a while about whatever comes
to mind ("open" freewrite) and then choose a specific
idea from there to begin a "focused" freewrite.
After you finish, reread and consider moving to a visual map or rough
outline of your ideas.
If you answered "c": The Big
Image: bendeming on
c. "... I like to start with big ideas and
The Big Idea Person
First, state your topic and thesis.
Next create a rough outline. Consider the following:
● What are the main sections of your argument?
● Within each section, what are the subsections or
● What evidence will you use to support each section
Once you have your big ideas in outline form, go back to your notes and
decide how to fit in specific evidence and ideas.
If you answered "d": The Visual
Image: Austin Kleon
on Flickr CC
d. "... I like to create visual brainstorms
The Visual Thinker
First, put your topic or thesis
in the center of the page.
You might consider the following:
● Draw pictures to represent your ideas.
● Circle, underline, color code, or use symbols to show
the hierarchy of your ideas.
● If you want, use an online mindmapping tool like
Want to see a Mindomo example? See my very lame example here,
based on what I actually wrote about for a history paper in high school
about documentary photography during the Depression.
List of Prewriting Resources
"Pre-writing techniques" from Simpson College, http:
"Why and How to Outline" by Elyssa Tardiff and Allen
Brizee, Purdue Online Writing Lab, http://owl.english.
Mindomo online mindmapping software, http://www.
mindomo.com/, (first 3 maps free)