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How Should You Prepare To Write?

Nov 25, 2007
Words destined to be well-remembered are not poured out. They are the products of thought, effort, and planning.

You can be sure of one thing. Without some preliminary thinking on paper, you will rarely produce the best composition you are capable of writing. You can be sure of another thing, too. A brief and simple outline will not be a waste of time; on the contrary, it will help you do the writing job right:

1. It provides the paragraphs for the body. It might be said that a composition should be prepared inside out. Unless you know what your main ideas are going to be, you cannot very well know where to begin or how to end. Therefore, the main purpose of the outline is to set up the middle of the composition.

The outline can be made to work almost by mathematical formula. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that an adequately developed body paragraph will require about 100 words. Many good paragraphs are shorter, of course, and many others run into hundreds of words. But, on the whole, you can use the 100 word suggestion as a means for determining the number of middle paragraphs you should prepare in relation to the total number of words required.

2. The outline provides the material for the opening and closing paragraphs. Since one leads into the major discussion and the other brings it to a close, it is a relatively simple matter to set up a good introduction and conclusion once you have planned your body paragraphs.

Indeed, if you wish to extend the formula idea, you can use it here, too. If you plan to write two body paragraphs, you can expect to write four sentences in your introduction - one to suggest the main idea and purpose of the entire composition, one to hint at the contents of the first middle paragraph, another to refer to the second, and a fourth to help you lead into the body. The same device can be used for the conclusion.

3. The outline prevents wandering from the topic.

When you have carefully planned what you are going to write in a particular paragraph - and nothing else regardless of how tempting it may sound at the moment - you won't be able to introduce ideas that do not belong because you will have imposed upon yourself a discipline that all writers recognize as necessary to insure the logical sequence of thoughts centered about one point at a time. Not only will each paragraph have unity within itself but its contribution to the topic as a whole will be improved.

4. The outline helps you avoid technical errors. It is usually difficult, if not impossible, to do two things at once and do them well. Whenever you write you are faced with the double job of expressing yourself with interest and good sense as well as correctness as dictated by acceptable usage.

5. The outline saves time! Yes, it saves time; it doesn't waste it. It may take you ten or fifteen minutes to prepare your work and you may think you have fallen behind some of the other writers who began scribbling away as soon as the signal to begin was given. But you will eventually catch up to them and pass them. You won't be stopping every few minutes to wonder what to say next, nor will it be necessary for you to cross out huge sections of writing because you have suddenly discovered that you have wandered off the subject. Once you begin it will be full speed ahead.

As a writer, you are an architect with words. If you want to plan quickly and effectively, you must learn to use questions to guide your thinking. They will help you force your mind to focus directly on the demands of the topic. They will lead you to an outline that takes into account the purpose, length, and major ideas of the composition you wish to write.

Use the above guidelines and you will have a well-planned composition.
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