Creating an Outline Using Margin Notes

I’m currently writing the various sections of the dissertation’s literature review. I usually have the narrative, or flow, of what I want to write about in my mind and don’t map it out. I’m very fortunately that I’m able to visualize the flow beforehand, as this saves me a lot of time. If I don’t know how to write about my chosen topic, or I can’t see the narrative, I sometimes just start typing. This allows the information I’ve read ahead of time to come to mind and the piece, for the most part, works out rather well. Other times, however, it’s a mish-mash of thoughts, topic sentences, and a disjointed mess.

I over the weekend I set about writing a section on the Canadian Copyright Act, emphasizing the fair dealing sections, and the lack of copyright comprehension by educators. The seven pages contained some well-written paragraphs, but lacked a good flow. I felt a bit like a pinball when I re-read the piece. The topics (and the poor reader) were bouncing from one subtopic to the next, and then back again.

Self-diagnosis writing problems can be tough, but as an academic writing tutor at UVic, I’ve learnt a few tricks that can quickly get the heart of the matter and offer a remedy to disjointed work.

My first steps were copying and pasting the section into a new Word document and then print it out. Next, I identified and noted in the margin, what topics I covered. I know my topic sentences are important, so I look at each sentence case-by-case. Often times a few sentences work well together, so I lump these together. The notes are for myself, so I use abbreviations and incomplete sentences.

Next, I line up the pages so all I see are the notes. On a scrap piece of paper I then write out the notes so they form a rough outline. Now I can move back to the computer and rearrange the piece to match my outline.

I don’t just copy and paste, as I’ve found that it’s too easy to lose track of what sections need to go where. Instead, I separate the section I identified with the notes, and use the comment function to clearly align the note with the section

Now, I’m confident with moving the sections to match my outline. This is also my opportunity to insert my observations about missing information.

I fill in the missing information, and then move to my final step, which is inserting connecting sentences. These include signpost of what is to come, my remarks, such as suggestions or observations, and ensuring the paragraphs flow

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