It might prove useful to organize the ideas that suggest themselves during the freewriting and clustering exercises into a preliminary outline form. It is possible to write a paper without an outline, but it might suggest that your paper lacks organization if it proves impossible to write an outline that describes the thinking process behind your paper. Outlining never hurt; how helpful it is depends on what kind of thinker you are. At the least, a tentative outline can suggest areas in which your paper needs additional work or supporting details to bolster main ideas or, on the other hand, areas which have too much emphasis and need to be pruned down to avoid an imbalance. It might also help you to see how ideas are related and where connections or transitions are necessary between sections of your paper. Furthermore, the outline will help you visualize how ideas fit within the thesis statement that is taking shape in your mind. Remember that your outline is only a tentative skeleton to hang ideas on; limbs can be lopped off or added as the writing proceeds. Your instructor might require you to submit a formal outline for approval before you write your paper or to go along with your final draft. If that is so, this tentative outlining process will serve you well later on. The Guide to Writing Research Papers has a special section on writing outlines, and we recommend you review that material. From that document, here is one image (below) that might prove especially helpful, a sample outline (from the MLA Handbook) of another proposed paper. The important thing to notice about it is how supporting details are arranged beneath more important ideas and the outline branches out (toward the right) as ideas become more supportive in nature. Logic demands that an "A" be followed by a "B." (If there is no "B," maybe there shouldn't be an "A," or "A" should be incorporated into the paper in some other way. -------------------------------------------------
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Many writing instructors use a freewriting exercise at the beginning of each class. It's a way of getting the brain in gear, and it's an exercise you can do on your own, safe to try in your own home. (We provide an interactive page for this exercise, see below.) Write down a topic at the top of that empty page. It can be either a one-word topic — like "Dentists," for example — or a brief statement of the topic you've chosen or been given to write about. Set the clock for five to ten minutes and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and go at it. Write as fast as you can; the faster the better. You are not allowed to stop writing! If you can't think of anything to say, write down that you can't think of anything to say, something like: "I'm stuck but I'll think of something soon." Don't stop. Don't worry about transitions or connecting the ideas or paragraphing or subject-verb agreement or even commas. And form absolutely no judgment about what you write. Your Censor is on vacation. Your writing may take you in some really weird directions, but don't stop and never think to yourself, "Oh, this is dumb!" If you get off the subject, that's all right. Your divagation may end up somewhere wonderful. Just keep writing. Do not criticize yourself and do not cut or scratch out or revise in any way. Many instructors suggest that at the end of the timed period, you should write one sentence IN ALL CAPS that takes you back to where you started — something to do with dentists. It's probably a good idea to read your freewriting out loud when you're done with it. Often the ear will pick up some pattern or neat idea that you hadn't noticed even as you wrote it. Read your freewriting to a friend or have your friend read it out to you. Your friend might think you're insane, but that's all right. Then it's time to spend just a couple of minutes going through the freewriting with an aim toward casual rewriting. The word-processor is a big...