Creating an Outline Using Margin Notes

Knowing the narrative of a section of a dissertation is important before sitting down at the computer. I usually have the narrative, or flow, of a piece in my mind and don’t map it out. I’m very fortunately that I’m able to visualize the story beforehand as this saves me a lot of time. When I can’t see the narrative, I sometimes just start typing. Sometimes the information I’ve read ahead of time comes to mind and the piece works out rather well. Other times, however, it’s a mish-mash of thoughts, topic sentences, and a disjointed mess.

I over the weekend I set about writing a section on the Canadian Copyright Act, emphasizing the fair dealings sections, and the lack of copyright comprehension by educators. The seven pages contained some well-written paragraphs, but lacked a good flow. I felt a bit like a pinball when I re-read the piece. The topics (and the poor reader) were bouncing from one subtopic to the next, and then back again.

Self-diagnosis can be tough, but as an academic writing tutor at UVic, I’ve learnt a few tricks that can quickly get the heart of the matter and offer a remedy to disjointed work.

My first steps were copying and pasting the section into a new Word document and then print it out. Next, I identified and noted in the margin, what topics I covered. I know my topic sentences are important, so I look at each sentence case-by-case. Often times a few sentences work well together, so I lump these together. The notes are for myself, so I use abbreviations and incomplete sentences.

Next, I line up the pages so all I see are the notes. On a scrap piece of paper I then write out the notes so they form a rough outline. Now I can move back to the computer and rearrange the piece to match my outline.

I don’t just copy and paste, as I’ve found that it’s too easy to lose track of what sections need to go where. Instead, I separate the section I identified with the notes, and use the comment function to clearly align the note with the section.

Now, I’m confident with moving the sections to match my outline. This is also my opportunity to insert my observations about missing information.

I fill in the missing information, and then move to my final step, which is inserting connecting sentences. These include signpost of what is to come, my remarks, such as suggestions or observations, and ensuring the paragraphs flow.

This entry was posted in Academic writing. Bookmark the permalink.