How to Write an Organized Paper

How to Write an Organized Paper

Before Writing

  1. Brainstorm. Jot down words for all the issues you’d like to cover in the paper. Stop after a few minutes. Discard the words on which you don’t want to focus. For the words left, jot down more specific words for issues which branch out. Stop after a few minutes. Discard some words; branch out with more specific words. Continue this step unless you have reached the desired level of specificity.
  2. Working backwards from the word branch, you will find issues which branch out into more specific issues. Organize issues into categories. If there are too many categories or too many ideas, you may wish to discard some. Establish relationship between the categories of the same specificity level.
  3. Make an outline. Decide on a thesis statement which note only goes into the categories in some detail but also establishes the relationship between them. Write a topic sentence for each paragraph. This sentence should be specific enough that it will still make sense even if taken out of the context of the paper. Write down the support you may use to support each body paragraph.
  4. Making the outline will help you to gain an immediate mental mindmap of the paper. Is the outline “symmetric”? Does it have a great deal of support on one point but very little support for another point? Does the outline flow with a logical progression?
  5. Is the outline specific enough that you could basically write the entire desired paper from it without addressing any new points?
  6. Keep the outline handy while writing the paper. New ideas will be born and the outline will help in finding where they will best fit in the paper. The outline should serve as the guide for writing the paper.

While Writing

  1. Relate all relevant points back to your thesis to establish perspective in the “big picture.” Don’t just say that something is true. Prove that it is true. Then, show why the fact that it is true is important. Ask yourself “how do I know this?” and “so what?”
  2. Be explicit! Be as detailed as possible. It is better to be too pedantic and obvious than too vague. Remember that even for points which seem “obvious” to you, there must be reasons which led you to them—if the points are significant in the paper, discuss what reasons there are and how they led you to believe in the point.
  3. Use key words such as “for example,” “in contrast,” “especially,” “in particular,” “therefore,” “in conclusion,” etc. These words create a sense of organization!
  4. Link ideas together with key words and establish their relationships clearly and explicitly.

After Writing 

  1. Make an outline from looking at the paper itself.
  2. Does this outline agree with the original outline? If not, would you like to edit the paper so that it conforms to the original outline? Or, would you like to work on organizing the new outline and conforming the paper to it?
  3. Write down one or two summary words for each paragraph. Look at the words. Do they flow with a logical progression?
  4. Looking at the first few sentences for each paragraph, do you gain an immediate idea of what the paragraph is meant to express?
  5. Does each paragraph address the topic sentence in detail?
  6. Are the transitions smooth between paragraphs? Perhaps you could summarize the previous point briefly and simultaneously introduce the second point by indicating both and establishing their relationship.
  7. Do the points all relate back to the thesis? The more specific the point, the more crucial that its relationship to the thesis is clear.
  8. Read the paper out aloud to self in a monotone voice. Do you sound like you’re rambling on?
  9. Read the paper out to another person. Then, ask them what main points they remember from the paper. Are these the main points you had in mind?

Remember—there are certainly many ways to organize a paper on any topic There is no one right way to organize, only more appropriate organizations for different papers and more logical organizations for different writers. Finding an organization that makes sense to YOU is the best way to ensure an organized paper. The more sense it makes to you, the more capable you will be at manipulating the organization.

The important thing is to prove your understanding of the topic, its issues, and their complex relationships through your ability to organize the paper.

Helen Kuo
Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley
©1995 UC Regents

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.