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As Cal Newport explains, it’s called a flat outline.
This let me spend more time on things that I enjoyed, such as writing for this blog and taking long walks through the woods. The ultimate waste of time when writing a paper is to write something that doesn’t even answer the question the professor is asking.
Today, I’m going to share this process so that you too can write papers more quickly (without a decrease in the quality of your writing). Don’t be afraid to ask the professor to explain any part of the assignment that’s unclear.
Remember: asking for clarification because you don’t understand the assignment doesn’t make you stupid; what’s stupid is to complete the assignment without understanding it.
Yet, when I was an English TA in college, I saw this problem all the time.
The flat outline works because it mirrors the writing process.
No one sits down to write with a perfect idea of what they’re going to say.“One more source” can easily turn into hours that you could have been writing.To overcome the temptation to procrastinate on research, I employ my favorite approach for beating all forms of procrastination: setting a time limit.Starting in college, I developed my own outlining technique that was much more effective.As it turns out, my technique wasn’t so original after all.Best case scenario, the professor is nice and lets you rewrite it, but why do all that extra work?Furthermore, asking the professor for clarification shows initiative–that you care about the assignment.Spending any more time than this puts you at a point of diminishing returns. If you find that you need more info after you start writing, you can always do more research.The goal of your initial research session is to give you just enough material to start writing.You discover what you’re going to say through the process of writing.The flat outline gives you just enough structure to overcome the dreaded “blank canvas” while still leaving room for discovery.