organizing your papers (and your life)

Organizing Your PapersOn Tuesday, February 18 from 3:30-4:30PM in the FPH Faculty Lounge, Will Ryan and Deb Gorlin, two of the three co-directors of the writing program, presented a special writing skills workshop to a group of first and second semester students. Couldn’t make it? Wondering what you missed? Read on for more information about what happened, how to get a hold of the resources that were shared in this session, and how to connect with the Writing Center!

What Happened:
While participants enjoyed some delicious snacks, Will and Deb asked them to introduce themselves and share the details of a current writing project and why it had them vexed. Participants spoke about perfectionism, desiring to impress faculty members whose work they respect, finding space for themselves in their own writing, improving their note taking in research, and struggling to find the words to accurately capture their thoughts. Sound familiar? Will and Deb used this information as a starting point in framing the workshop to cater to the needs of attendees.

Will and Deb began by sharing some useful advice about understanding writing assignments and prompts and the writing process, and then spent some time answering individual questions. They later went on to introduce a model for organizing analytical writing, which they further explained with a handout that has been dubbed as the most requested in the history of the writing program (you can view it here!). The facilitators followed the handout throughout the session, explaining each step and providing helpful hints for each stage. We’ve included a number of these hints below!

What We Learned (and other helpful notes from Will and Deb):

  • Getting ready to start a writing assignment? The first thing you should do is read the course description all the way through. Assignments are drawn from this document, and reminding yourself of the fullness of a course’s content can often help you if you’re struggling to start an assignment. Next, read the assignment to make sure you have a full understanding of the instructions and expectations. If the assignment is based on a text, make sure to read the assignment first. You’ll read the text more effectively and will be able to start calling out pertinent information sooner. Sound obvious? You’d be surprised at how many people miss this step!
  • Finished reading the text, but not sure that you understand the reading? Feel free to look up book reviews and secondary sources to help clarify things for you. Once you have this supplemental information, you can go back to the original text for a more informed read.
  • Ready to start writing? You might benefit from freewriting about the text first to help you spark some ideas for how you want to proceed. Once you’ve taken some time to think about things, try making an outline to organize the main points that you want to make. Just as you’d work out a math problem on paper, determining how to organize your work on paper can be a tremendous help. You don’t have to figure it all out in your head.
  • Once you begin your draft, pay attention to what part of the paper you’re in at any given moment (introduction, literature review, method, body, conclusion). Use the guidelines provided in the handout to help you determine how long each section should be, and where the different pieces of information you wish to share should be included.
  • Are your main points changing as you continue writing? That’s okay! Periodically going back and adjusting the introduction to accommodate these changes is an important part of the writing process. Plan to revise, and give yourself enough time to do so.

Additional Tips from the Facilitators:

  • Faculty often write assignments in the form of a paper outline. Try to break apart the prompt in this way to better organize your thoughts.
  • Your process is your process — don’t compare yourself to others. Some writers are heavy planners (pre-planning each step), while others are heavy revisers (free-writing first and organizing things during revision). The brainstorming <–> organizing <–> drafting <–> revising <–> editing <–> brainstorming loop goes in both directions, and doesn’t always have to be linear!
  • Thinking of taking a break? Don’t stop writing until you know what you’re going to say next. It’s much easier to come back to a writing piece when you’ve given yourself something to go on.

Get In Touch:
Want to schedule an appointment for yourself? Call or email the Writing Center staff to set up a meeting time:

  • Will Ryan – – 413.559.5646
  • Deb Gorlin – – 413.559.5531
  • Ellie Siegel – – 413.559.5577

Kyla and Andrew, the Writing Center interns, also hold drop-in sessions from 6-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday in the Library Training Room on the 2nd floor of the Johnson Library. Kyla and Andrew are also available on Sundays from 1-9 p.m. Check out their flyer for details on how to set up an appointment, send drafts, etc.

Learn More:
Can’t get enough of these great academic skills? Join us for another workshop! Our next workshop, Taming Your Reading Dragons, will be held on Tuesday, February 25 from 3:30-4:30PM in FPH 102. Learn how to get through your reading with the help of technology, all while enjoying some free snacks!

Questions? Did we miss something? E-mail us at for more information.

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