Monday, 22 February 2016

#14daypaper Part 1. Planning

Welcome! This is the first in a series where I try to write a paper in a fortnight, and document it. If you're wondering, 'why on earth would anyone do this?' check out part one here.

I started by focusing on two things. Firstly, getting my main points clear. Secondly, by identifying gaps in my knowledge so I don't spent far too long on tangential research.

Which begs the question(s): how do you start writing a paper? Do you take it from something you're working on? How do you condense your ideas? Do felt tips help anyone else? 

Day 1
I'm developing this paper from a piece I wrote six months ago, so I start by re-reading the original piece. It's about 4000 words, so I need to cut it down by about half. I use an orange pen to cross out what I don't need and highlight areas I want to keep.

Next, I need to plan the structure of my paper, so I get out my coloured pens and go to work. This is what you can see above. I test out an approach I learned at a recent training session.  Usually, I would write out a long list of things the audience need to know. Instead I map out my key points, and how they relate to each other. I have three main points I'm taking the audience through - they're outlined in orange. Red indicates detail.

This is the basic outline of my paper. Now I need to focus on supporting information or quotes which I already have. These are in lavender.  This leaves the gaps in knowledge I need to fill in to support my arguments. These are in brown.

I'll admit, I feel silly playing with felt tips. However, this approach means that my paper already has a structure. And I know exactly where I need to focus my research.
I finish by re-reading my two primary texts, and review my notes on them.

Day 2
Today I have 5 hours of meetings other projects. By the time I sit down to start work at 3pm, my mind is already occupied. I have a late lunch and write a to-do list for all my other tasks.

Back to the paper. Since lunch hasn't revived me, I decide to review the criticism I read for my original piece. I still have some of the articles I used, so I skim read them. I order additional books from the library. Where I find a useful quote/paragraph, I write it down in full.

Day 3
I arrive at the office for an early start, and the books I ordered yesterday arrive at the library. I carry on taking notes. Even though I read these books 6 months ago, I'm surprised by how much I missed the first time round. (Is this a sign of intellectual progress? Or sloppiness?)

I park that thought, and focus on taking useful notes. I usually scrawl notes, then have to come back to them when I write my first draft. Then, I flail around for the right way to contextualise the quote or the paraphrase. This tends to slow down my writing process.

To try and avoid that, I'm not scrawling notes. I'm taking down quotes in full and phrasing them the way I want to use them in my paper. This is only possible because my felt pen map has made it clear where I need more evidence.

Before I can feel too smug about this, I start feeling a migraine coming on. I go home.

Day 4 (Half Day)
I come to the office straight from work. Since I've been up since 6am, I find my half day is useful for smaller admin tasks. This means I spend most of my day working on other projects.

I plan my reading for tomorrow so I'm ready to get ready.


Using the map has made the first stages of writing the paper much easier than usual. However, I know that I struggle not to go off into research tangents. That'll be the next challenge. 


  1. Great post! Found it via Twitter. I always start with a very similar outline. I've tried using various mind mapping tools but always end up back on paper since there are no limitations on the flow of the original framework. Although my outlines aren't nearly as neat. Best of luck with the paper, I look forward to reading how it turns out!

    1. Thanks Rick. I have to admit, it's paper all the way for me, too. There's nothing like being able to draw arrows, scribble etc. I've yet to find a programme that enables you to do it quite as easily.