Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Note Card Method of Writing

My main tip for writing is to use a version of the note card method. Here is how I write.

  • Your best thoughts will come to you as you read and interact with texts. So you need to capture those thoughts on paper as you are reading.
  • Write out your thoughts, with one thought or one paragraph per sheet of paper. The benefit of having only one thought or paragraph per sheet of paper is that when it comes time to write, you can easily shuffle your notes into any order you like. If you take all your notes in a word processor document or a notebook, you can't easily shuffle the notes around, and you probably won't remove content that should be removed.
  • I prefer to use half-sheets of paper, three-hole punched, and put into a statement-size binder. Others prefer to use note cards. 
  • At the top of the sheet of paper, write the topic. I use all caps.
  • At the bottom of the sheet of paper, write a footnote if one is needed. This might just be a short reference, like: Mayes, How to Write, p. 42.
  • After you take your first note from a text, type up the bibliography for that text in your computer. This could be done using bibliography software (I use Zotero), or it could just be in a word processor document. Format it for footnotes.
  • In your notes, distinguish somehow between your summary of what the text said, and your own thoughts and reflections. I distinguish between them by writing a footnote with a reference if I am summarizing someone else, and putting curly brackets around, or an eighth-note (musical note) beside, my own thoughts.
  • Early on, think about what the outline for your paper might be. But you don't have to decide this at the beginning. It will become obvious to you as you take notes.
  • Eventually, you will have your notes, and you will have an outline. Now put your notes into order, according to your outline. You will find that you can't use some of your notes because they don't contribute anything to the purpose of the paper. That's to be expected.
  • Type up the notes. You'll have to add some transition sentences. Some of your reflections will serve as the "conclusion" section. 
  • Done! That's your paper.

The method makes writing so much easier, once you implement it. The beauty of it is that you do 90% of the writing while you are engaged with the text, which is when your best thoughts will occur.

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