organizing reports: 10 tips

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Practical Writing: 10 Tips for Organizing Reports

Some tips for organizing long serious articles or reports — learned the hard way.

Laptops, internet, and the wonders of electronic cut-and-paste make life easy, right? Instead of starting with a blank-page crisis you start with a stream-of-consciousness set of notes you want to directly morph into your paper. Easier said than done.

These tips assume you've done your homework and have something to say. No organizing scheme will substitute for the meaningless notes from an uncritical mind.

#1 Start with the big stuff. Don't start revising sentences till you have a structure that flows.

#2 Use your word processor formats (fonts, type size, color) to help you SEE your sections and themes. You might even start by color coding text according to different points you want to make. If a paragraph makes two different points, break it into two paragraphs.

#3 Decide your main sections and label them: Introduction, Part 1 Label, Part 2 Label, Part 3 Label, etcetera, Conclusion. Start moving your text to the right parts if you find some out of place

#4 Sub-sections: Within each Part, find the "bullet point" headings. Pretend you're turning your paper into a Power Point presentation. When you get the hang of this, your structure will start to emerge. You are actually retrofitting an outline to your free-flowing text. This is the heart of your revision

#5 "Kill your darlings." You might love an idea or how you stated it, but you find it doesn't fit. Get rid of it. Paste it into another document called "OtherThoughts" if you can't bear to lose it all together.

#6 Points. Within each sub-section. start labeling at the paragraph level whenever the subject changes. Guide the reader.

#7 Double-check labels and headings against your text. Truth in labeling? Does the reader get what you tell them they'll get?

#8 Conclusion. Summarize the main points from each part. Don't introduce any new factual information. Give your insights about what it all means or what you learned.

#9 Introduction. Now go back and tell the reader why your article is important and summarize the points you're going to make.

#10 Hopeless mess? Losing track of what you moved where?? Don't be afraid to open a new document. NOW, set up your outline on the new document. Then copy relevant sections from your original. This way, you keep all your original research but you give yourself a clean start. Don't be afraid to glance at your original, but start writing without copy-and-paste. It will turn out fresher. Remember: overprocessed meat is baloney!