College of Staten Island
 The City University of New York

  Harry Thorne,
  WAC Coordinator
  Office: Building 2S Rm 227
  Email WAC

Writing Across the Curriculum/
Writing in the Disciplines
for Students

 Organizing the Body of Your Paper

You don’t actually have to write the body of your paper in order, either. Just start with the parts you feel like writing. I think that a lot of writing instruction is based on how people used to write in the “Land Before Time,” that is, before computers. Now that we can copy and paste like crazy without having to re-type things on a typewriter, there’s really no reason you need to write everything in order.

Text Box: Now that we can copy and paste like crazy without having to re-type things on a typewriter, there’s really no reason you need to write everything in order.One of the most important things that you should consider when writing a paper with an argument is why your paragraphs are in a certain order and how they support your thesis. Paragraphs are the building blocks of your argument. If you’ve ever taken a logic class or seen lawyers and doctors on TV (I’m thinking Dr. Temperance Brennan on Bones here), then you know how strong arguments are supported by a bunch of statements that you can prove to be true. Each of these true statements builds on top of each other, in order, so that your big, overall argument is strong. You can think about the paragraphs in your paper doing the same thing. This is why starting with writing the body of the paper makes so much sense: you won’t quite know if an argument will be airtight until you see what your paragraphs add up to. You won’t know what your paragraphs really say until you write them. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the body of the paper, then work on your introduction, and finally refine your thesis instead of the other way around.

Sometimes people with ADHD and learning disabilities organize things differently than other folks. I really struggle sometimes with organizing my papers. Like, really struggle. What makes perfect, logical sense to me does not seem logical and orderly to most other people. For the longest time, I just thought that I was a mess or not smart or not getting what other people saw. Now I just realize that I structure ideas and information differently and that I have to work on organizing my ideas so that they make sense to my audience.

I think of this process as “translating” my ideas so that more people can understand them. If someone wandered up to me and started speaking Hungarian, I’d think that it sounded pretty awesome, but I wouldn’t understand much of it at all—and yet the language would make perfect sense to the person who spoke it! Paper organization works in much the same way: we can’t communicate with each other unless we’re on the same wavelength and speaking the same language, so to speak. Organizing paragraphs takes work, just like learning a new language does. But once we learn how to translate our arguments for the widest audience possible, it’s really cool because we can think in two different ways: in the native thinking pattern that comes very naturally and also in the form that we’ve learned in order to communicate our ideas.

Learning new types of organization that lots of people seem to understand doesn’t mean abandoning your natural way of thinking. I think that my way of thinking and organizing is a huge asset because my job as a historian is to create new knowledge about the past. Thinking about everything in different ways than most folks makes it easier to come up with out-of-the-box arguments. I just have to then translate my ideas so that lots of people can appreciate and learn from them.

I come up with ideas the same way I always have and organize my paragraphs the way I think that they should go in drafts, but I review how my paragraphs are organized before editing my paper and check to make sure lots of people will follow my argument.

  • One easy way to do this is to print out a copy of the draft, cut each paragraph apart, put all the pieces on a big table or the floor, and experiment with how you could organize the parts in different ways by moving them around.
  • Another option is to write a new outline based on what you’ve already written. Write down your thesis and the main point of each paragraph, in order. Does it seem like they’re in the right order or could you try moving some around?
  • Another strategy is to ask someone to read your paper just to see if your paragraphs seem like they’re in the right order and support your thesis.
  • You could also read only the first sentence of each paragraph aloud to someone and ask if the paper makes sense.

When I’m finally getting close to putting everything together in a way that will convince other people of what I’m trying to say, my ideas feel different. They were good ideas before, but when they’re all in the right order, it feels a bit like I’m doing math. Each paragraph builds on the one before and by the end, they all add up to my thesis.

Keep in mind that your thesis statement is where you make an argument, but your paragraphs and how they’re organized is how you back that argument up. A lot of folks find it really hard to make an argument, even when the assignment requires them to make one. It feels scary to make a strong claim! I suspect that the difficulty comes from the organization of the paragraphs. When I’ve been stuck and can’t make a strong and clear argument, sometimes it has helped to shake up my organization.

Next: Revising ->