If you used the outlining system explained in Outlining Made Simple and your writing assignment was a page or less in length, I’m certain it worked for you. In that blog, we deliberately did not tell how to use the system for outlining a school research paper or a 2,500-word magazine feature. The reason: too much information can overwhelm most of us. We learn best in small increments.
We also learn by doing. Like downhill skiing, just reading about the subject won’t keep your face out of the snow. So, if you don’t have a writing assignment, give yourself one—a short story, essay, or several pages in your journal—and follow along. Since the two blogs deal with the same subject, think of them as Outlining Made Simple, Parts I and II. Read Part I. That is the bunny trail.
Here’s a summary of the bunny trail: To outline your writing, list miscellaneous thoughts about your subject on the right side of a 2-columned table. Next, place a number in each cell in the table’s left-hand column to indicate the note’s order in your piece. Then, highlight the column and click “Sort.” Now your thoughts are in logical order, and your article or story is ready to for a quick first draft.
In Part II, the slope isn’t frightfully steep. We are still working in a table using Microsoft’s Word 2007, but this time we are using additional features. We will add rows to the top of the table, split the table and use commands “Split Screen” and “View Windows Side by Side.” If you are not familiar with those features, look them up in “Help,” or send me a note in “Comments,” and I’ll explain how to use them.
Use of the extra features will help you glide down a long slope. If your list of notes continues past one page, enumerating hundreds of thoughts can be a dizzying chore. Long lists need presorting. Follow these steps:
1. Scan your notes and think of topics within your subject.
2. Estimate the number of topical subdivisions you’ll have, and add that number of blank rows to the top of your table.
3. Split the table after the last blank row. Similar to your listing of notes in the first table, list your topics in your newly drawn table.
4. Next, assign a letter (a, b, c, and so forth) to each topic according to the order you want sections to appear in your paper.
5. Highlight the left column, and press “sort.”
You have constructed your paper’s framework. Next, you will group all those miscellaneous notes to an order you can work with. You need the lettered list handy for referral while you go through your notes. You can print it. That works at home. But too often in a school or office, your one-page document’s place in the printing queue follows an order for a dozen copies of a 30-page collated booklet. Murphy’s Law applies: the printer jams. By the time your document prints, you could have finished your outline. Steps:
1. Use the command “Split Screen” to keep the section’s list at the top of the monitor’s window. Now it remains in place for quick reference.
2. Next, scroll through the list of notes, assigning each the letter of the topic a particular note will be grouped with.
3. When each note is paired to a letter, highlight the table’s left-hand column, and click on “Sort.” Now disparate notes are pulled together into groups of related topics.
4. Working with one letter at a time, decide on how you want to arrange the thoughts or notes in that particular group. Assign each note a number, and write that number beside the letter. The “c” group in the left column’s list may look something like this: c2, c5, c1, c4, c3.
5. Highlight the part of the column containing only the letter you are working with. Click “Sort.”
Repeat the action for each lettered group in your notes. If you followed the steps outlined here, your notes logically arranged, almost represent your first draft. How easy is that?
©, 2012 Bernice Simpson