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Sound Writing

Subsection 4.1.2 Planning

So now that you have a ton of ideas all jockeying for attention in your brain, it’s time to sit down, consolidate those thoughts, and plan out what you are going to write. But before you can begin, there are a few things you’ll need to address that will help make the planning process go as smoothly and productively as possible.
A person sits typing on a computer at a desk that has a plant as well as the computer on it. There is a large clock on the wall looming over the person.

Subsubsection Some Planning Strategies

List 4.1.2. Strategies for Planning your Paper
There are several planning strategies to help you bridge the gap between the disorganized chaos of brainstorming and the more comprehensible structure of outlining:
  • Determine the purpose of your paper.
    Why are you writing? What is meaningful about your argument? How does it answer or respond to the prompt?
  • Identify your audience.
    Who are you writing for? Your peers? Your professor? Yourself? Identifying your audience is key in helping you frame your argument and determine what is most important for audience comprehension. For most academic papers, your audience will be the greater academic community, which includes your peers and professor. Sometimes, your professor may identify your audience for you. If you have any questions about your audience, remember that it’s always best to ask your professor for clarification.
  • Decide on content.
    What will your paper be about? What content will you include in your paper to make your argument? What evidence will you use to substantiate your claims? While the content will likely change as you move through the writing process, figuring out what information you need will help you identify what you want to write about and whether you need to conduct more research before you begin writing.
  • Figure out a format.
    How will you format your paper? Is it a descriptive essay? An argumentative paper? Compare-contrast? Or perhaps a close reading of a primary source? In order to help you answer this question, go back to the assignment prompt and figure out what it is asking for. This will help you determine the most appropriate structure for your paper and argument.
  • Don’t feel confined by the “Five-Paragraph Essay” you may have learned in middle/high school!
    This basic format is insufficient for college, and professors will encourage you to break free of it in your writing responses. Rather than letting this intimidate you, try to view it as a liberation: Let the complexity and nuance of your argument guide you toward the structure that works best for you.
  • Start thinking about style.
    Before you begin writing, it’s helpful to think about the tone of your essay—the language you’re going to use, how objective or subjective you will be, from which point of view you will write. For instance, you probably wouldn’t write a chemistry lab report using the same language that you would use to write a personal narrative (see Chapter 5). Deciding on a voice early on can help you figure out what kind of language to use while you are planning, outlining, and drafting your paper.
  • Create a Mind Map.
  • Try Freewriting.
  • Try Drawing.
Two hands are pulling delicately at a thread that connects a box labeled Important Idea #1 with another labeled Important Idea #2. Between those idea boxes, also attached to the thread, there are two text boxes with blank lines on them.

Subsubsection Mind Map

Mind maps can help you organize your ideas further by identifying different parts of your argument and drawing connections between them. Start with your main idea or topic in the center of the page. Then write down subheadings for everything you think is important for understanding your argument around this main idea. Then write down the pieces of evidence or the reasons you believe your argument beneath each of these subheadings. Finally, use arrows, pictures, or words to draw connections between the main idea, subheadings, and pieces of evidence. For a more visual approach, draw heavier lines or multiple arrows between the relationships that are the strongest so you can identify where your argument is the most convincing.

Helpful Questions 4.1.3. Making a Mind Map.

  • Do my subheadings all lead to the main idea?
  • Are they all supporting one part of my argument or do they support different parts?
  • Do they offer different or competing perspectives?
  • Are they all using similar evidence or do they draw from a variety of sources?
  • Are there any connections between the subheadings? Between the pieces of evidence?
  • Does all of my evidence come from the same source? (This might be okay in an assignment like a close reading or analysis of a primary source, but things like research papers often require a variety of different sources. Look to your assignment sheet for more guidelines on how many/what kind of sources to use.)
  • Is there any information or evidence I want to include but don’t know where to put? Is it necessary for my argument? (Create a list of these off to the side so you don’t forget them.)
This example mind map has a title that reads "mind map." It includes three pairs of text bubbles, each with one reading "important idea" and one reading "reason." A fourth bubble in the center reads "main idea." All of the bubbles are interconnected with arrows.

Subsubsection Freewriting

Another great way to start planning to write your paper is to write! In the freewriting method, write down everything you can think about your topic: thesis, claims, evidence, areas of uncertainty, logic gaps, anything you know you will have to address while writing your paper. Don’t worry about formatting or grammar or sentence styling or whether your writing “looks good”—those will come later. For now, try to focus on the content of your argument: What do you want to argue, what evidence do you have to argue it, and what do you want the audience to get out of your paper? Freewriting can be useful for helping you figure out what you truly want to write about, and oftentimes your argument and thesis may even change after you’ve let the pencil wander aimlessly. Let it! This is proof that you are actively thinking about and revising your argument, which is a crucial part of the writing process.

Tip 4.1.4.

If you’re having trouble getting started, here are some prompts to help get you going:
  • “I think that . . .”
  • “My topic is . . .”
  • “I am interested in . . .”
  • “I would like to know more information about . . .”

Subsubsection Drawing

If you’re a more artistic person, you might also experiment with illustrating your argument. Depending on the type of argument you’re making and the class you’re writing for, you could draw the main characters, historical figures, or events and then make the appropriate connections between them. Similarly, if your argument is more linear, sequential, or chronological, you could draw a different, comic-stylized picture for each step of your argument. You do you!

Tip 4.1.5.

Use a whiteboard or chalkboard to plan or outline. They have a lot of space, and it’s easy to erase!