Once the notes we have accumulated on our primary and secondary sources reach a critical mass, it is time to take stock of what we have uncovered. Organizing this material into an outline can be an initially daunting process. With enough perseverance, however, it can be ultimately exhilarating as the paper begins to take shape and come into view!
The Scholars touch on many different aspects of the research paper process in their blog posts on writing an outline.
Some wrestle with the data they have accumulated. Bianca asks: what do you do when you have a dataset of 1,000 residents of Chicago from the 1880s on spreadsheets and graph paper? The answer isn’t always so simple. Olivia knew it was time to start outlining as the notes in her Zotero and in various Word documents reached a critical mass.
Another part of the process involves coming to grips with what others have previously written on these subjects. Some of the Ramonat Scholars are revisiting topics that have been addressed by others, while others are drawn to subjects that have received far less attention. Brendan thinks about how absence, as much as presence, shapes the arguments that we can make. Andrew discovers how the outline forces us to put primary and secondary sources into conversation, each helping to refine the other.
Creating an outline can raise worries about how to put all of this material together. The challenge of balancing the fun stories, anecdotes, and personal accounts with the much larger picture haunts Claire. She realizes that she needs to stop looking at the trees and remember there is a larger forest. As Guy realized, outlining helps identify where more work is needed. It also forces us to think about how we are going to synthesize all of the material that we have uncovered. The Scholars have a range of options in how they present their findings. Shannon mulls over in her post the question of what does an outline look like when the final product isn’t a traditional research paper?
And sometimes outlining is as much a physical process as it is a mental process. Outlining might induce stress dreams, Susie explains, but it can be a productive tension, powering us towards bringing our papers together. Dan, too, knows what it is like to reflect on the challenge of trying not to be overwhelmed by the amount of material uncovered.