UofL Writing Center

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

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