HOW DO I WRITE MY ROUGH DRAFT?
|8.1 What Final Preparations Do I Need to Make Before Starting to Write my Rough Draft?|
|8.2 How Do I Actually Compose My Rough Draft?|
Before constructing a building a builder needs a goal, a plan, and materials. Before constructing your rough draft, you need the same things. The presentation and defense of your thesis is your goal; your outline is your plan; and your note cards are your building materials. The cement that will hold your materials together is your own thinking.
Throughout the reading and note taking stage of the research process, your notes and working outline have evolved together. Now it is time to put them into a form that will allow you to produce your rough draft.
After a certain amount of research you may begin to get the feeling that, considering the scope of your project, you have read enough sources and collected enough material. You may keep coming across references to sources that you have already worked with; you may notice that your sources are repeating the same information and that what is new or different is not really relevant to your question. This tells you that you have completed the circle and are ready to move on to the next stage of the project.
On a more practical level, the Historia clock is always ticking, and you may know you are finished taking notes when the time allotted for that task runs out. This is why it is so important to follow the "funnel of research," dealing with the most comprehensive and important sources first, and then working your way down to the more narrowly focused and less significant sources. Even if you do not get a chance to work with every possible source, you should still have time to work with all of the important sources.
At this point, the advantages of the note card system really come into play. Now you will sort your cards according to the headings and subheadings of your outline. For this you will need a fairly large flat surface. Place your outline so it's easily visible in its entirety. Read each note card and ask yourself: Where does this note card fit into my outline? Be as specific as possible in terms of subtopics. Piles of cards will begin to form under each topic and subtopic. Label the piles (but not the cards quite yet).
This process also serves as a final revision test for your outline, while also highlighting areas that may need more research. You should have some cards for each of your sections or subtopics, and sections of roughly equal weight should have roughly the same number of cards. If you have no cards (or very few cards) for a section, you have to ask yourself: Do I really want to include this section in my paper? If your research has shown that this subtopic truly is important, you will have to do further research (as part of the revision of your draft). If the subtopic does not seem important, you may decide to delete it.
Don't be discouraged if some cards are repetitious or if some cards just don't fit in. You will probably accumulate a small "discard" pile. However, once the entire sorting process is complete, if your notes and outline have been on target, most of the cards should be used. The better your outline, the greater is the amount of your material on which it can impose order. If a large percentage of cards don't fit in, either your note taking has been misguided or your outline is in need of major revision. The number of cards in each subtopic pile should be roughly proportional to the importance and projected length of a given section. If you have too many cards under a given subtopic, it could be a sign of excessive repetition or a need to subdivide the topic further.
Once you have finished sorting your cards, you should label them with the numbers and letters of the outline section to which they belong (e.g., IIAl); this will save you the trouble of having to re-sort them if they get mixed up.
Sorting your note cards has helped you refine your outline through additions, deletions, and modifications. There should now be a close fit between your plan and your materials.
As a final piece of pre-writing that may help you compose your paper, you may want to expand your topical outline into a sentence outline. Take the phrases of your topical outline and expand them into complete sentences. These sentences will become the topic sentences of your paragraphs, the skeleton onto which the body of your essay will be fleshed out.
When you sit down to write your rough draft, you will probably have collected enough material to support any of a number of different points of view on your question. From the beginning of your research, you should have had a hypothesis (or provisional thesis) to guide your research. This preliminary thesis may have evolved or even changed dramatically during your researchor maybe not.
Before you start your rough draft, however, you shouldhave a very clear idea of your thesis. To insure a good trip, you should have a clear idea of your destination before you take the first step. Some people may say that their most interesting and satisfying intellectual (or geographical) journeys have been those that they simply made up as they went along. But that is really not the kind of trip your Historia journey is. Naturally, as you review your organized note cards while writing your rough draft, you may have fresh insights that affect your thesis. Your thesis may evolve, develop, and unfold in ways that you did not expect. But if you begin your rough draft unclear on where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. To achieve anything resembling a consistent, unified point of view, your paper will have to undergo extensive surgeryand still, the scars of extensive revision (not to mention the more subtle inconsistencies of tone) may never be smoothed away.
If your essay is five or fewer pages, you will probably be able to write it in a single sitting, which will help to insure continuity. If your essay is between five and ten pages, you may want to work on it during a couple of sittings at least, maybe on different days. If your paper is over ten pages, you will probably want to take at least two days to write it. Your extensive pre-writing preparations (notes and outline) will allow you to stop and start your writing with no loss of continuity. By now, you should be familiar with your own writing habits; use the approach that works best for you.
In any case, the easiest way to tackle writing your paper is to focus on writing one section at a time"divide and conquer." Your outline should guide you like a road map. When you are ready to write a certain section, pull and lay out the packet of relevant note cards, which have already been sorted. Read over the cards to refresh your memory. The exciting thing is that thanks to the note card system, you will now have, at a glance, material from three or four sources on exactly the same topic, in addition to whatever note cards you may have taken on your own insights. Under these conditions, you will often have some new insights on the subject. In any case, your rough draft should be a piece of writingnot just a cobbled transcription of your notes, which can only result in the intellectual equivalent of plasterboard.
The introduction is an important part of your essay, yet it can be one of the most difficult parts to write. Why? First, the words and ideas tend to be more your own, coming more out of your own head rather than from notes on sources; second, a good introduction really requires a clear grasp of the scope and focus of your whole essay; finally, the introduction is the first part to be writtenwhich means you have to overcome those "I just can't get started" blues.
For these reasons, there is always a temptation to write the introduction after you have actually written the paper, and "discovered what I really want to say." This may not be a bad technique for certain types of papers under certain conditions, but for your Historia papera research essay on a historical question that you have been given ample time to prepare to writeit is probably not a good strategy. To write a seamless essay, you really need to know exactly where you are going and how you are going to get therebefore you take the first step. If you start with a foggy idea of where you are going, you will probably end up lost, just as a builder without a blueprint may produce a rambling, disjointed house. The challenge of writing the introduction acts as a good gatekeeper: if you are having trouble writing it, you may not be ready to write your essay. Sooner or later, the difficulties that are preventing you from writing the introduction will have to be overcomeand better sooner than later.
When writing your introduction, think of what you look for as a reader when beginning a book or article. Things that come to mind probably include: "I want to know what it's about... I want to get interested to read more..." Your introduction should: (a) clearly define the focus and scope of your question; (b) give a clear and succinct expression of your thesis (the answer to your question)although this thesis will be developed, refined, and elaborated throughout the essay; (c) engage the readerpique his/her curiosity and interest.
There is no exact recipe for good writing, but there are certain approaches that will let you fulfill these objectives without falling into such boring formulas as: "My paper is about and I will seek to show You may begin with a brief but catchy anecdote; you may begin with a series of general statements that narrow down to your particular focus and present your thesis. You may want to present interesting or surprising statistics or pose a paradox. In any case, you want to set the scene for thinking; you want to pose the problem that stimulated your thought.
You should try to follow your outline. Your outline should represent the product of considerable thinking and revision. It should not contain any major structural flaws. However, as you write your paper, the momentum of the writing may carry you in directions and sequences that vary from the outline. You may follow this momentum where it leadsbut eventually your essay and your outline have to be brought into synch. Ask yourself: which is the better way, the outline or how it turned out in my rough draft? You may have to go back and revise your outline to make it square with your paper. This may seem somewhat artificialand it is, considering that the outline is supposed to guide the writing of the paper. But the bottom line is: your essay must be supported by a clear and logical principle of organization, and your essay and your outline should correspond. You may think you can write without an outlineand you can, if you take "outline" to mean a piece of paper with headings and subheadings on it. But no one can really write this kind of paper without an "outline" in the sense of some clear, appropriate, logical principles of organization.
For most students, the essence of a good writing style is something most commonly called "flow." Good writing "flows." What are some things to keep in mind to achieve this flowboth at the level of sentences and paragraphs?
A sentence expresses a complete thought. The more the structure of the sentence reflects the structure of the thought, the more effective it will be. Although you are writing prose, you should try to cultivate the poet's (and musician's) ear for cadences, rhythms, and word order that best serve your expressive purposes. In expository writing, your first goal is clarity; but all language has an aesthetic quality that can be used to your advantage.
We all have our favorite sentence structures, which come naturally to us and which we habitually fall back on; but it is important to vary our sentence structure (word order, placement of subject and predicate) not just for the sake of variety, but so that the structure fits the thought. Your sentences should be natural and spontaneous, without being too conversational or informal. Avoid a succession of sentences with identical structures (especially subject/verb ); it can deaden your writing.
Good, clear, vigorous expository writing (like the kind you are trying to do in your Historia essay) unfolds in a series of unified, well-developed paragraphs that follow each other in sequence with logical transitions. Make the paragraph your effective unit of composition. Each paragraph should have a main, controlling idea. This idea should be expressed somewhere in the paragraph where it naturally seems to fit. If you were to extract all of your topic sentences, they should form a coherent, compressed summary of your entire essay. Within each paragraph, the sequence of sentences should unfold logically: in a sense, your whole essay, on a logical level, is a series of "outlines within outlines," like a series of increasingly intricate gears that delicately mesh with each other.
Learning to begin paragraphs with a clear topic sentence is a good place to begin, but an entire essay written to this formula may become tedious and mechanical. Good writing, like good theater, often involves an element of suspense and spontaneity.
A good transition in writing (just like in conversation) takes an aspect of one topic and associates it naturally with an aspect of another topic so as to make a smooth, natural linkage. The next topic is then developed, until the next transition is made. Jarring skips and leaps can not only be disconcerting to the reader, but can make your paper extremely difficult to follow. Your paragraphs shouldn't just lie there in isolation; they should be part of a logical sequence. A succession of only loosely related paragraphs that lack clear, logical connections is a symptom of weak writing.
Good style in writing, like good style in dressing, is all a matter of what is appropriate to the circumstance. You wouldn't come to school in a tuxedo or evening gown (unless it's fancy dress-up day); nor would you wear shorts and a t-shirt to the prom.
Your Historia paper is a piece of scholarly writing intended for a general, educated audience. It should be written in a formal, objective, controlled style. It should not be too personal, informal, colloquial, or vituperative. Many ways of expression that would be perfectly acceptable in everyday conversation would be inappropriate for this kind of writing. This does not mean that the style should be stuffy, pretentious, too technical, or dull. Your writing should be scholarly, but should sparkle with the interplay of ideas.
In terms of voice, although recently one sees more references to "I" in professional scholarly writing, it's best to avoid too many overt references to yourself. And yet, you should try to create the feeling for the reader that your paper is the product of a unique individual mind with a distinctive personality, not some type of impersonal thinking machine. It is possible to create a sense of individual voice, without excessive references to "I". For further information, see the Greeley Writing Manual, section on style, (pp. 37-42, print version); specific discussion of the use of "I" is found here (pp. 41-42, print version).
In this kind of writing/thinking you simply explain the content of your source material. Although it is perhaps the most rudimentary form of thinking, it does require the ability to thoroughly understand and communicate the material. Good exposition is clear and concise, yet well-developed and complete in terms of the defined scope of the essay. There should be no loose ends dangling that leave the reader wondering about something he/she should know. All terms should be adequately defined. Your essay should avoid extended stretches of pure exposition simply for the sake of exposition ("historical background" etc.). Exposition should serve the focus of your paperyour argumentby providing background essential to understanding the problem, and facts that are relevant to your argument. Your exposition should be consistently related to your argument. It should provide not facts just for the sake of facts, but facts for the sake of argument.
In this kind of writing, you get your different sources "talking to each other," pointing out significant differences and similarities in perspective. Your comparisons should lead to conclusions and insights that are relevant to your topic. In this type of analysis, you use what your different sources have to say on the same topics to interrogate each other.
Here you offer your own evaluation of the material derived from your sources. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why? You interrogate (critically cross-examine) your sources. How credible or persuasive are they?
In this type of writing/thinking you express your own personal point of view, based on your critical analysis of the sources and your own creative thinking. You may share a point of view taken by one of your sourcesalthough you should try to get beyond "a la carte thinking" where you simply pick and choose among fully developed points of view in your sources and adopt it totally. You may combine different aspects of different points of view contained in your sourceswhich may be mixed with some of your own original insights. It's unrealistic to think that you can arrive at some earthshaking new insight on a problem that people have been thinking about for decades or longer. But don't sell yourself short. You may be able to throw light on an angle that hasn't really been noticed, and you may be able to combine material from your sources in a unique and clever way. Originality in scholarship is rarely a bolt from the blue; more often it is a slightly new way of looking at and combining ideas that have already been out there. Insight often advances by small degrees. Regardless of the of view you adopt, the essence of rational discourse is the offering of arguments or reasons for why you think the way you do. Valid, logical arguments based on a foundation of facts derived from reliable sources should be the guts of your essay.
Direct quotations, used in the right way and in the right amount, can add a dimension to your paper. Quotations allow primary and secondary sources to speak in their own voices, adding authority and credibility to your essay. Whenever the actual language is crucial to your argument, a quotation may be appropriate.
Generally, a direct quotation is appropriate when the material is essential to your argument, relatively brief, and expressed in memorable language that makes it much more effective than a paraphrase. Also, direct quotations are often used to introduce an essay (or section of essay). Such a quote is called an "epigraph" and serves to suggest the theme.
Try to avoid extremely long quotations, unless you are making a textual argument that depends on it. Also try to avoid too many quotations overall. The most common mistake regarding the use of quotations is using too many quotations to express material that really should be expressed in a paraphrase. If the material is basically expository, it should be paraphrased. Although students quote excessively to avoid plagiarism (a good motive), this defect is really a failure in note taking technique. Since the skill of good paraphrasing was not mastered, too many note cards have basic expository material in the form of direct quotations.
Occasionally, this defect is taken to the extreme, and the essay becomes almost entirely a series of direct quotations strung together. Again, this is a result of not mastering the paraphrase type of note card.
For the important technical mechanics of incorporating quotations into your essay, refer to the Greeley Writing Manual section on quotations (pp. 43-48, print version).
For a complete explanation of all aspects of documentation, please see the Greeley Writing Manual section on research and documentation (pp. 74-86, print version).
Although inserting the parenthetical references may sometimes slip your mindsince you may not be accustomed to itthe documentation should be added at this stage. With practice, it will hardly interrupt the flow of your writing. If you forget to add the documentation now, you will have to backtrack and add it later, which is tedious and may lead to inaccuracies and omissions.
Once again, apply the test of common sense: place your in-text citations so that the reasonable reader can tell without doubt the material that is your own, the material that came from sources, and (within the latter category) the material that came from which source.
All direct quotations and statistics should be documented directly (i.e., the citation should be right next to the source material). If you have an average length paragraph that contains source material from a single source and page, you may avoid a string of identical citations after each sentence by placing the citation at the end of the paragraph. But if a paragraph contains a mixture of material derived from different sources, or from different places within the same source, or a mixture of your own ideas and material derived from sources, you must strategically place your citations to show these distinctions. An interpretive comment that is not documented will be assumed to be your own.
For an extensive treatment of plagiarism (what it is and how to avoid it), please see the Greeley Writing Manual section on plagiarism (pp. 87-94, print version).
Like a lawyer's summation, your conclusion is the last chance you have to pull together the various strands of your argument and make your case forcefully. You should restate your thesis and the facts and arguments you have presented to persuade the reader of its truth. Take advantage of the opportunity to gather and relate different aspects of your argument that may have been scattered in different sections of your paper. Try to make new connections, and arrive at a higher level of insight. This may involve putting a slightly different spin on your thesis or seeing your evidence in a somewhat different light. Your closing thoughts should make a memorable impression on the reader.
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