There is no greater source of confusion, frustration, and wasted time in writing than disorganization. Organization is important on several levels, each of which is essential.
Organization of Ideas
This is perhaps the most elusive but most necessary level of organization, especially for the kind of in-depth study involved in an extended project. When writing a work of some length, you will need to discuss and present a wide range of thoughts, information, and arguments. When beginning a project, the various aspects of the topic can be overwhelming and confusing, and it is easy to find yourself lost cacophony of ideas and information. But it is the task of a writer to take a complex and thorny subject and present an intelligent and clear analysis of it. You must therefore master the details, organizing them under an overarching vision for the work. Without a clear perception of what you are seeking to do in your project, you probably will struggle to put the pieces of your work together, to decide what goes where, what aspects are central and need further development, and which information might be passed over until another project.
It is therefore especially necessary that you keep this overarching vision for the project—the big picture—in the forefront of your mind as you plod along in painstaking tasks of research and writing. Toward clarifying and maintaining this vision, there is no substitute for regular conversations about your work with peers and advisors. Talking with others forces you to articulate your ideas clearly, and these conversations can reveal places where ideas need to be developed or challenged. Professors and fellow students can provide invaluable feedback on your work and may be able to point you to resources of which you are unaware.
Organization of Research
Because extended projects usually involve extensive research, the organization of research materials is vital. As you begin accumulate a variety of materials on related topics, it becomes necessary to organize these sources in a system that allows you to locate sources quickly and easily. This organization can be accomplished though the use of folders or hanging files labeled by topic, into which articles, photocopies, and your own notes can be placed. Alternatively (or in conjunction with a physical system) it is possible to keep an electronic filing system with articles, bibliographies, documents, and notes arranged in folders for easy electronic access. Electronic files have the obvious advantage of being portable and allowing easy transference of data among files and documents. Whatever system you devise, it should be clear and useful, helping you to save materials carefully for quick location when the need arises.
Several useful software programs exist for organizing personal research libraries. Some examples include Zotero and Endnote. Students are encouraged to consult their peers and professors for specific advice regarding these and other helpful programs. Dr. Thomas Keene, (Ph.D., Westminster Theologiical Seminary) has created a detailed guide to using Zotero for biblical studies research.
Organization of Writing
Writing for an intensive project involves a cyclical process of writing out initial ideas, evaluating and reconsidering those ideas, and re-writing more refined thoughts and arguments. This process is closely tied to the analytical process of research. A successful writing process provides a format for you to write out thoughts on your topic throughout this process. Consider keeping a list of research questions, a bibliography, a working outline, and a document (or several) for jotting down thoughts on various topics as they come up. While a system of electronic folders allows easy access and transfer of material among documents, some students work better with hard copy folders. Whatever system you use, be consistent and make the system work for you.
Other "Conducting an Extended Writing Project" topics:
Conducting an Extended Writing Project Home
Counting the Cost
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