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What Next and How Much? - Creating Order and Emphasis

When you are drafting a longer paper, such as a research essay, it can be easy to lose track of your order. That's when we ask ourselves, "What should I say next?" on page four while we are working on what is supposed to be an 8-10 page final draft.

Preparing an outline, formal or not, before you start drafting can help you avoid this sense of being lost in the middle of a rough draft. An outline—especially a formal one—, however, requires a thorough understanding of your topic and your opinion on it.

Some writers instead prefer to explore their ideas by drafting, to write to learn. If you feel lost in the middle of a draft or uncertain about your order as you complete a rough draft, try outlining after drafting. Just number each paragraph and ask yourself, "What am I trying to do in this paragraph?" Once you have completed this outline, talk it through with a classmate so you will learn if the order makes sense, if you are meeting a reader's needs.

For more advice on how to order a paper, see "What Should Go Next?" in the "Writing Process" section of this web site and chapter four of Ballenger's The Curious Researcher.

Order, however, is only the first part of organizing a paper; emphasis is just as important. As you work through the order of a draft, ask yourself "How much information does a reader need to understand this section?" Add to your outline whether an idea will require 1, 2, or 3, etc. paragraph(s) to be explained.

Remember that we tend to overwrite as we begin drafting, and underwrite as we later hurry to finish so it is important to doublecheck if each main idea has been emphasized enough or too much.

Of course, it is much easier to consider the order and emphasis of a draft if we have time to step back from the work so don't wait until the last minute to start drafting and ordering your ideas!