Using Your Journals and Response Papers
To Get Your Paper Underway

Over the years I have tried different techniques to get my writing flowing. The single most helpful trick I learned is to set aside a regular time for brief daily writing sessions. In fact, most prolific and successful writers use this strategy. It is hard at first to get into the habit, but once you do, you will be amazed what you can accomplish in a very short amount of time. And you'll never have to pull an all-nighter again!

By this point you should have already found a rhythm of writing regular journal entries. The next step is to use your practice as well as the ideas you explored to developed thoughts in a longer paper. I invite you to suspend your disbelief and work for a week in 15-30 minute sessions. I recommend working with paper and pen, but you can also work on your computer. Keep the daily entries separate and put them into a folder.

From Reading Journal and Response Papers to a Thesis Statement

Day 1: picking your topic
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Read through your notes and select the topic you will write about.
3. Without writing (yet), do five minutes of thinking to yourself:

  • How would I paraphrase the topic? Do I understand the key terms of the topic? Which resources can I consult to clarify them?
  • Why does my topic matter?
  • Which book(s) might I write about?

4. Without hurrying at all, take 3 minutes to jot down the ideas you had when you were thinking to yourself. Jot down your notes any way you like: sentences, diagrams, notes, pictures, etc.

Day 2: generating first ideas
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Without writing, take about five minutes to think to yourself:

  • What parts of the book(s) do I need to re-read to make sure I understand them?
  • What passages seem important? Why? How do these key passages relate to each other?
  • What questions do they raise? How might I answer them?

3. Briefly skim a few passages, and, without hurrying to jot down some ideas. Again, take notes in any form that helps you.

Day 3: formulate your question
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Take 5 minutes to read over your notes from the prior 3 days. Mark or highlight the key ideas, questions.
3. Again, without writing, take five minutes to think to yourself:

  • How can I synthesize a selection of my initial questions into one central question?
  • Is my question discussible? Does it call for interpretation (not just fact of the text)?

4. Once again, without hurrying, take 5-10 minutes to write out (in sentence form this time) your first version of your central question.

Day 4: refine your question / formulate your thesis:
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Take 5 minutes to revise (in writing) your question: again, does it call for interpretation?
3. Without writing, take 5 minutes to think to yourself:

  • How would I respond to my question?
  • How might I support my response?
  • How would I state my response in a sentence? (This is your first draft thesis).

4. Take 5-10 minutes to outline your response and write out (in sentence form) your draft thesis.

Day 5: look for evidence
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Take 5 minutes to re-read your thesis and if necessary refine it.
3. You may now feel the need to re-read and explore certain parts of the texts to find evidence. Mark these quotes.
4. Take 5-10 to work an outline of your paper. You can use concept map or any other medium that is helpful to you.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have completed the most difficult part!
For extra credit: With your paper, turn in copies of your notes for each the five days and a paragraph commenting on the usefulness of this exercise.


Phase 2: Now it is time to craft your critical thoughts into a narrative.

Day 6: write an introduction (30-60 min)
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Take 5 minutes to look over your outline and if necessary refine it.
3. Take a stab at drafting the introduction.

Day 7-9: Take it from here (30-90 min)
1. Take a minute simply to collect yourself and relax.
2. Take 5 minutes to look over "Writing a Good Paper: The Basics" to remind yourself of the structure the paper should follow.
3. Take it from here

Remember to edit your paper carefully. Ask a peer for feedback. Give yourself a day.


(Adapted from Christopher Jackson's assignment for CPLT 101/102)