Structure In Scholarly Writing

After years of teaching scholarly writing - specifically for law reviews - I have come to the conclusion that structure is often the biggest hurdle for students (and authors, in general) when it comes to writing lengthy articles.

In class, we discuss outlining and organizing early so that the students can lay a good foundation to write their articles. But the thing about writing is that an organization that you thought logical in the beginning may run amok once the article starts to take shape.

A post on Chronicle Vitae discusses helpful hints to overcome this issue:
  1. Reverse outlining: Print out the entire draft of your text and break out your red pen. In the margins, jot down each paragraph’s main idea. If it has more than one, flag it. If it doesn’t seem to have a concrete purpose, flag that, too. 
  2. The Humpty Dumpty Method: Requires a full printout of your text. It also requires a large, flat space—either a conference room table or a floor will do. Step one: Take a pair of scissors and cut your text up into individual paragraphs. I’m serious. Step two: Throw them around. Mess them up. Step three: Now try to put them back together again. If you can’t do this easily, either your original argument isn’t strong enough or the original structure really isn’t working.
  3. The Ryan Sloan Strategy: Use big, colored sticky notes and colored markers as you research. Keep track of your evidence as you go: analysis, source, and concepts or categories. Before or after you write (depending on if you’re writing or revising), pull out all the notes and get yourself to a smooth wall or whiteboard. Arrange and rearrange the material in clusters. The whiteboard allows you to draw relationships and note reflections or questions. Sloan recommends that you “take a picture with your phone to save a record, erase, and start again.” This approach allows you to “see” the best structure for your argument emerge right in front of you. 
The overarching guideline is to not get too rigid with your original structure. You should be open to the process of reorganization once the article starts to take shape. These methods are just a few that may put you back on the right track. 


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