Thursday, July 9, 2015

Outline Fundamentals

One of the most important parts of writing involves planning.  After you've begun your reading and taken notes on your sources, you need to come up with a "plan of action" for how to start your writing.

For my purposes, there are only three basic things I look for in your outlines:
  1. The broad topics and secondary topics are easy to see.
  2. Each broad topic either has secondary topics or a connection statement.
  3. You've noted which quote cards are related to each of your broad topics.
Just note that every writer follows different outlining practices - I myself use different types of outlines depending on the type of writing I'm doing.  So for this course, I don't require any specific style of outline - instead, I present three different outline approaches that I tend to use, and you can pick any of these choices.  Or you can use a different approach entirely - that's perfectly all right.  I encourage you to follow an approach that's comfortable for you.


Outlines Are Messy
But first, a warning: outlines are not the same as draft.  They are often messy, they might be confusing, and they aren't carved in stone.  The point of an outline isn't to decide exactly how you'll write your paper - instead, an outline should help organize your thoughts by mapping out the relationships between your sources.

The Main Components of Successful Outlines
What counts as "success" with an outline?  Really, all that matters is that it reminds you of what you're writing.  It's a memory aid, and nothing more.  Although you certainly can include full paragraphs, I don't look for that.  Instead, you can use single words, short phrases, and quick "research codes" to remind you of which sources to double-check as you're writing your paper.  Here's what I mean by this:

Broad Topics
Typically, a "broad topic" is just a single word.  For writing research, we typically use a CHAT term or an important genre convention for the type of writing we're studying.  Something like "Representation" or "Single-Page" or "Font Types" would be excellent broad topics for an outline.

Secondary Topics / Connection Statements
The secondary topics would be subsets of the broad topics.  For example, under "Representation," you might have topics like "Professional Writing" and "Grammatically Correct" if your topic is resumes, or you might instead use "Informal Writing" and "Flexible Syntax" if your topic is Facebook.

A connection statement is similar to a thesis statement, but far less formal.  Something like "Resumes are seen as professional writing" would go well under "Representation."  And note that you don't necessarily need a connection statement in your outline.  If your broad topic has three or four secondary topics, that's good enough for an outline.  (So under the broad topic "Genre Conventions" for resumes, you might list "single-page, list format, legible font.")

Quote Cards and Research Codes
The main point of an outline is to connect those topics and connection statements with relevant quotes for your paper.  But you don't need to write out the whole quote in your outline - that just takes too much time.  Instead, you only need to jot down a Research Code, something that will remind you where to find that quote you want to use.  A research code might be the author's name and the page number for the quote you'll use.  Or if you number your quote cards, you can simply write the number to card that you're going to use.  I don't need to see the quote on your outline - you'll be writing it in your paper, and I'll read it there.  But I just need to see that you have quotes in mind for the different parts of your paper.

Wrapping Up: Outlines are Short
So, that's pretty much it for an outline.  Typically, an outline for a 12-page paper might be a single page with 50 words on it.  Or if you prefer typing out whole paragraphs while brainstorming, your "outline" might be four pages of notes.  Both approaches (and everything in-between) works well for me.

Outline Approaches

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