I have a lot to say, but how can I organize my thoughts?
Having a lot to write about a topic can be almost as frustrating as not knowing what to say. In both cases, you’re trying to figure out what pieces of information belong and how they fit together. Strategies for figuring out what to include are similar to those involved in brainstorming and generating ideas.
It’s important to begin the process (of composing) early—this leaves time for reading. Not only does reading help us think about a topic, but it can help you decide what is important to include in your outline, and finally, your draft.
Writing your ideas down
Sometimes the best way to get organized is to be able to stand back from your ideas and think about them. Once you understand the assignment and have done enough research, you can create a list, or a web, or a freewrite, of ideas. Having all the pieces in front of you can help you decide what to do with them. You can do this on paper or even with index cards so you can move things around more easily.
Making your ideas work together
Sort the ideas you do have. Do some of these ideas seem to be making very similar points? Could one be used as a main idea while others might be examples? If you can create categories, ask yourself: in what way might the categories be related? This can help you decide which to talk about first, second, third, and so on. Keep in mind the overall point you want to make, your argument, or your thesis. Are your categories ordered in a way that will allow your content to build and ultimately accomplish your goal in writing? Creating an outline is helpful, even if your outline looks like a detailed (ordered—ordered is key) list.
Be ready to leave out some topics. When we have a lot to say about something we can easily get off track. Writing about pet ownership could include things like what kind of pet one should buy, the best training strategies, how a having a pet could influence your social life. All these things are related, but including them all in one paper would be overwhelming. Select the pieces that fit together best, and save the other points for a different piece of writing.
Revising your ideas
After you’ve finished a draft, be sure to seek feedback. After completing the piece, you might be too close to it to see how your ideas are working together. You might need to rearrange ideas, or even add/cut something, in order to fully develop your piece.
One revision strategy we often use to work on organization is the “reverse outline.” To do this, take your draft and write a brief summary of each paragraph, either in the margins or on a separate page. This is a quick and easy way to see how your draft moves from one idea to the next.
What can the Writing Center do to help?
Writing Center consultants are available to help with any stage of the writing process. We can help you to identify the different points you have in response to a prompt and then sort them out. We can also talk to you about what you think the most important ideas are and how that relates to the other information you are considering including in your writing. Finally, for this kind of concern, we can help you develop an outline to write from, or give you feedback specifically regarding organization.