OK, so I’m in the process of writing a final paper, and i thought it would be cool to share how I go about that. Why? I’m curious how my process compares to that of others, part of me wants to act as teacher, and then justify that for those who I have helped, I sometimes know what I’m doing.
Unfortunately I killed my earliest drafts, but we can start with what I have. We had to look at how mental disorder is depicted in the movies. I chose a Beautiful Mind, because it has Russell Crowe, of course
STEP 1: React and Make Connections
1) I made a blank doc that I made and just wrote shizoo down while I was watching, and reacting to what I saw. Then what I did is copy paste my class notes on schizophrenia into that doc, and then pair stuff I saw with the movie with what I learned. Then I created another doc, basically to ramble and put down my ideas, sorta diarrhea of the mind style. I don’t have that original one because it turned into the main paper document (aka I saved over it) but what I did is copy paste stuff from this doc into the idea doc. So when I was done with this step, this particular document (JohnNashMovieNotes) was EMPTY!
STEP 2: Organize your Ramblings
2) I then made a doc that combines my ramblings (mostly my ramblings) with my observations/notes. I started to chunk information into broad categories, and make connections between those categories. The idea is that finding connections gives your paper it’s 1) theme(s) and 2) organization/flow. While I was rambling, certain questions might have popped into my mind, and I would write them down, because investigating them might also lead to the foundation for a paper.
This is essentially the step of clumping ideas together and starting to answer the question what am I writing about anyway, what am i arguing? If you look at this document there is an idea of an outline at the top, and then highlighted yellow categories that might be a good order for that outline. So I essentially said what is my story? and then how am I going to tell it? But if you go beyond the yellow clumps! it’s just TEXT TEXT TEXT! That’s the ramblings.
This is probably the hardest part in writing a paper, when you have a general idea and know what you want to write about, you have some evidence, but no clue in hell-o how to put it all together. The way that I deal with this is by taking those broad yellow categories, (which are each important!) and thinking about how I might connect them. So even before tackling any paper meat, I write some potential transitions, and you’ll see those under the yellow sections. I’ve identified some idea buckets, and I’m just trying to loosely tie some of them together. The next step is organization of the mass of paragraphs and ideas.
STEP 3: Put Rambles in Idea Buckets
3) The next step is going through those broad clumps of ideas, and just plopping them in an order and box that makes sense. So in this step, I’m pairing the plot of the story with what might actually happen. This is when I put what I want to say broadly where I want to say it While I’m doing this I’m refining connections, maybe deciding that one category isn’t in the right spot, and also writing spur of the moment! new ideas even come to me and i say AHA, this needs to be added, and most of the time I even refine my thesis with these new ideas. I say thesis, you ask, where did that come from? I feel that the thesis comes to you as you are making connections, and grows with the paper. For me, it started with something like (the movie ties schizophrenia to brilliance) then I thought about how it shows John as being in control of his treatment, how environment, stress, came into play, and thinking about those things in relation to the paper prompt – the thesis just emerges, really, I couldn’t tell you when! I think it comes early like a bud and matures with the thinking.
In terms of actual process, I literally draw a bold line below my yellow outline, above the mass of words, and start cutting from below and pasting above. When the space below the line is empty, I’m done with this step. You’ll also notice stuff in red, which is either instructions or notes to myself, to remember for the next step.
€“This€“ is a slightly later version of placing ramblings in idea buckets.
STEP 4: Paperize It!
4) The next part is easier. The organization, transitions (flow of ideas) is basically done, now you have to prune and refine. Yes, you have to actually! write the paper! (because a lot of the result of step 3 is just organized ramblings, it isn’t actually paper quality). So I tackle one yellow section at a time, and do the same writing/copy/pasting combo again, but more on a detail level. Now I care how the idea is said, (word choice, sentence structure), having the RIGHT transitions, topic sentences! ALL the details basically. I also check the balance of the introduction and the conclusion, and make sure that everything that’s in the paper is found there. The introduction should provide just the right amount to set up the story but not give everything away, and the conclusion has a little extra oomph at the end to leave the reader satisfied, but possibly create an appetite to ask more questions. So in this step there will also be a lot of deletion (why it went from 12 single spaced to 8 double spaced pages, sans references and title page). Historically (since maybe 2nd grade), my problem has never been meeting the page requirement and needing to write more, I have always been presented with the problem of cutting out what I don’t need. Dude, just look at my blog, you know this about me I only prune when I have to – like for work or academic things, because getting a point across quickly and directly is important! But not for free writing.
When you are sifting through evidence, the decision to include or not is more than just asking is it good? I ask, given the context of what I’m trying to prove or say, does it add nothing? too little? or maybe I’ve already hammered the point, and have enough.
As I finish writing each yellow section, I’ll make it double spaced so it actually LOOKS like a paper. That’s like my little reward for finishing a section
Then you have a first draft. WOOT!! I’ll give it a day to steep, read it over, and make little corrections like I’m reading someone else’s paper. This is also the stage when anyone else might see it, if I want feedback. As my family knows, I usually send it to them, to look for the mispellings and commas that I missed. Honestly, at this point I get lazy and feel like the cost of marginal work outweighs the benefits. Largely, I don’t seek other people reading it. So I do the minimum to finalize it. I’m glad my family, if they get back to me with anything more than a woo!! is pretty chill about editing, otherwise I’d have to do more work.
STEP 5: Make pretty, and print
Then you have a “final” (haha, it’s not actually due yet, as I post this). I just fixed little things, added the citations and correct formatting (title page, references, page numbers), and I’m done. yay. The best part is emailing a copy to, myself, to print via e-print when I need it. Shaaweet!
How does that compare to what you do? It’s not that I plan this out in advance, it just happens and I tried to articulate it this time. Hope it was interesting.