Dear Master’s Programs Student,

In a previous tip, we looked the steps of the writing process.  This week we’ll explore how one step—organizing—can actually help with another phase—brainstorming.  [For those who don’t practice the steps of writing, be sure to check this post and this post first to review the writing process.]

Usually when organizing the ideas of a paper, a writer will select the most logical order for his paragraphs and draw on clear connections between ideas.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with this, but the “most logical order” is also typically the most obvious.  Sequencing paragraphs in this way has the benefit of providing easy connections; the downside is that it doesn’t add to one’s content.Mixing

The next time you’re not writing a paper last minute, try the following exercise:

  • Print out the points you intend to make in your essay.
  • Cut out each point so that it’s on its own strip of paper.
  • Throw the strips into the air!
  • Pick them up randomly, and affix the strips to a new piece of paper.

Expect that some of connections and transitions will simply not make sense.  At other times, however, you’ll end up with a juxtaposition you never anticipated—one that enhances your paper.  This “random” ordering can help you see connections you hadn’t thought of; it can also challenge some of your own ideas and force you to include a needed counter-argument or concession.  Sometimes the new arrangement will even spawn novel ideas you hadn’t generated in the brainstorming stage.  This exercise provides new perspectives on the topic under consideration.

Remember that instructors like to see original thought in papers—it demonstrates that you care about the material and have engaged with it thoughtfully. And “form,” NYU writing instructor Laura H. DeSena (2007) tells us, “as much as content, can offer [your] papers the distinction of originality.”

Happy creative, original writing!


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