How to Write an Outline: Tips to Writing Response Papers

How to Write an Outline: Tips to Writing Response Papers
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Only Reading The Book Once Is Foolish

If you’re in the process of writing a paper, you’re in the right place. Here is where you take all the information you’ve gleaned from reading the book and taking awesome notes, and turn it into a killer outline.

When you first read the book, you saw your initial reaction to new text. The second reading is more informed and intelligent. You will think to yourself: “But I don’t have the time! I’m busy, I certainly don’t want to waste my time learning. It’s bad enough that I have to pay for my books, let alone read them. Can we speed up this second reading process doodad?”

You have hope: Your notes.

In an ideal world, you have been following along with this series and as a result have a handle on some key literary words to impress your teacher or professor; you have some notes in your book (or in a note book) from your first reading of the text and if you are really lucky, you have some notes from class (either from peer groups or instructor led discussions.

When it comes to writing a response paper you want all of these: Initial reaction, what you learned from classroom discussion, and what you learned from the second, much more informed reading.

Why In The World Am I Reading This Book More Than Once?

You aren’t – not really. You are reading your notes to see changes from when you first read the book to now. On top of that, you are re-reading key points in the book that stood out to you (or that your teacher/professor would not shut up about) to see if new light has been shed on those passages. If you are honest about it, there will be changes and also strengthening of some of what you felt the first time around.

You want to make note of these changes and what has strengthened in your opinion either in a word processor or on paper – do not trust yourself to simply remember.

At this point, you may not want to make note of these in your book or if you kept notes in a notebook the first time around. You want to make these separate. You can compare them together and help your brain differentiate between then and now. That way, when you write your outline, you will be able to see easily how your mind changed in light of new information or over time to think – something you might find quite helpful when you write. The ability to track what you felt, thought and learned when they happened organizes your brain. An organized brain always helps when writing a response paper.

I Have A Mountain of Notes Now! What To Do With Them:

You should be noticing something beautiful happening here! An outline! It is not perfect, it’s just a fledgling. A little, baby outline that needs love, patience, and time – but it is a beginning, my friend. And when you have a good outline, it is relatively easy to turn out a good first draft.

So let’s turn baby into something a little bit more solid.

Okay, you don’t need quite as many notes as this picture suggests

When you read the book the second time, you are looking for what stands out to you in the book. What were the key moments? Also, from classroom discussion and a second reading, how has your opinion changed? Have your feelings about the book changed in any significant way?

Your outline is the best of the best from these questions – and I would like to point out right now, unless your teacher or professor is requesting you to turn in an outline in a specific format, you can make it look however you want.

For instance: Mind maps.

Mind maps are like a clustering. Here’s a fantastic link on clustering for writing.

If you have huge ideas in your head that you have no clue what to do with, but that you would really like to see on paper – and mind maps/clustering are not cutting the mustard in your life anymore (how sad): look into summarizing. This link will help you take big ideas and make them smaller. The writer of that article is talking about long blocks of text. To help you make the transition to how this applies to you, replace the word “text” with “my long idea that I have no clue what to do with.”

With all of these, you have your outline good to go, you have ideas in your head, you are slowly but surely getting everything in order and you are very close to the first draft when writing your response paper.

Shaping Your Outline

You want to take note of four or five points. These will be key points in the book that especially stood out to you, some ways your opinion changed, something you learned about in class and how your opinion adapted to that accordingly.

In your outline, you want to think of what is related to these four or five points. You want to jot down somewhere a page number. If there’s a change in your opinion, you want to make note of the original and of the change that occurred. If you can think of any examples or comparisons, you want to list them in your outline. Whether you want to do a simple or full sentence outline is up to you – and how much you like to copy and paste. If you are very creative and like thinking out of the academic box, you may want to go really crazy and mix the two together. You are the only one looking at this, make it work for you.

A Point of Contention

Many folks will disagree with me here, but in a response paper, I don’t worry too much about transitions. The basics will do just fine (more on that when we talk about the polished draft). The reader needs to know where you are going based on what you say in your introduction – the rest is artifice.

How I love my clipart.

The second reading is to find new insights on the book: what has changed about your opinion, what have you learned, what did you learn from class discussions or peer groups, what key points in the book were really strong to you?

You keep notes on these four throughout the first reading, the classroom discussion, and the second reading. These notes are then made into an outline, and the outline leads to you writing a response paper.

This outline is young, it needs help, tenderness, and love to turn into a first draft. Don’t worry yet about things like transitions, introductions and conclusions. Focus on four or five key points and expanding on those points for a nice, well-written paper.

In this series I hope you’ve been helped along the way from reading the book you need to respond to, narrowing and refining your ideas, and putting together a helpful outline.

If you would like to learn more about putting a response paper together, feel free to follow along with this series: Writing A Response Paper where you will learn about writing a rough draft, paper editing, and polishing a final draft.