Along with your arsenal of sticky notes and note cards there’s one other item you should always prepare in class, an outline. Every good research paper has a sense of order to it and one of the best ways to achieve that is through an orderly collection of thought.
If you have ever created a mind map to help in writing a paper, then an outline is not too far off from this approach. The outline should begin with your direction, or thesis for the paper. Separate out the main points by “chapters” or stages. Give each stage supporting statements, or factual information from your class text. This is a great tool for those averse to writing papers. Once you’ve finished the outline you have a blueprint for the paper. You can refer to your blueprint and build on it as you conduct your research. In my writing process for class I like to create the outline before diving into the work. This way you can fill in the blanks as you move through the text.
For graduate level students, syntopical reading is more of a practiced form than inspectional reading would be. Syntopical reading is comparing and contrasting two books at a given time. An outline is advised for those engaging in the syntopical approach to reading. Not only is it active reading, but it is a good practice to write down your questions at the time of thought, and to record your findings as you come across them. As with most papers, an abstract is part of the process. You can easily turn to the outline as a resource in creating it.
Just like your syllabus is your road map to the journey for the class, an outline will be your instruction manual for your research papers and reading. Good luck and happy writing!