It Is Time To Start Researching & Writing

westonIt is late in the evening now, and I am writing to you from my kitchen table after celebrating Thanksgiving Day here in America.  The kitchen windows are frosty but Jelly Bean and I are snug and warm.  I am baking brioche and enjoying a steamy pot of tea while she snoozes on my feet with her favorite toy under her head.   Winter arrived early in Southwestern Pennsylvania this year.  We have already had more than a foot of snow, which is unusual here. It has been cold and snowing all week giving an early start to all the activities I enjoy most. We like being out-of-doors, so winter fun like tobogganing, skiing, ice skating and frolicking in the snow with Jelly Bean are a real treat.  For me there is nothing like a day exercising outside in the crisp winter air and sunshine then relaxing in the warm, snug kitchen of our home with my collie dog close beside me. Winter here is under-appreciated, I think, and many people do not understand how it can be my favorite season when summers here are so lovely. But for me, winter is bracing, invigorating, and a chance to indulge in my favorite things.

Besides enjoying out-door winter activities, some of my favorite things, like writing, also somehow seem different and more enjoyable at this time of year. I look forward to starting my research and paper writing process as soon as the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall.  May be it is because, by this point in the term, I have done enough primary and secondary reading to feel confident in my approach to questions.  Like many of my colleagues in our student chat areas, making an organization plan to approach the quantity of information in our courses is a challenge.  For me, what is even more challenging is shaping my notes into a useful set academic material that can be used to build on my progress to date and produce competent essays at exam time. Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of ‘Phase II’ of my study plan, and an important shift in how I approach my academic work. Now it is all about research and writing.

For me, it is not useful to try writing an essay or even an essay plan early in the term. Beginning the writing process to early is frustrating because I do not have enough familiarity with primary texts or secondary reading. It is also not very helpful to wait until later in the term and focus entirely on writing the kind of essays that are required in exams. Practice essays are not the best use of my study time just now. To write an essay under exam conditions I need to have quite a bit of information about my topic already organized and committed to memory.

This weekend I will sit down with a very large stack of secondary reading from my local library, totaling about ten books for each of my courses course.  The first thing I do to begin ‘Phase II’ is outline a research plan for the learning outcomes at the beginning of each study guide.  For me, this ‘Working Outline’ is absolutely essential.  The learning outcomes are very broad, but it is just the right place to begin. For example, how do I know I have mastered the learning outcome ‘Discuss and critically evaluate debates about the development and nature of the novel from its beginnings to the present day.’ I need to research the development of the novel, produce a working definition of the nature of the novel, identify debates about both issues over time, discuss the issues, and decide how I will critically evaluate them. My ‘Working Outline’ first draft looks like this:

I.                    DEVELOPMENT OF THE NOVEL

A.      Precursors to novels

1.       Use of prose in fiction and storytelling

2.       Popularization of prose

a.       its influence on the novel as a genre

B.      Novels over time

a.       Early

1.       Readers & audience

2.       Authors

3.       Debates about the novel at this stage

a.       What debates were occurring about the novel at this t

b.      What debates are occurring today about the novel at this historic period?

b.      Emerging

1.       Readers & audience

2.       Authors

3.       Debates about the novel at this stage

a.       What debates….

b.      What debates…

c.       Later Development

1.       Readers & Audience

2.       Authors

3.       Debates about the novel at this stage

a.       What debates….

b.      What debates…

C.      Popularity of the novel

1.       Genres of the novel at different stages

a.       Early

b.      Emerging as a genre

c.       Later development

d.      Contemporary Novels

II.                  Nature of the Novel

1.       Definition of the ‘nature’ of the novel

a.       Critical debates

b.      Social debates

2.       Social influence of the novel

a.       Critical debates

b.      Social debates

3.       Novel compared to other genres

a.       Readers

b.      Social function

c.       Critical debates

d.      Social debates

4.       Literary styles and influences over time

5.       Fundamental changes and why they occurred

6.       Resistance to the Novel

7.       Acceptance of the Novel

My ‘Working Outline’ is the document I will work from for the rest of the term.  With four courses to study I will have about twenty of them in progress. From here, my ‘Working Outlines’ will expand as more questions, details and responses to their points are filled in.  Eventually, before ‘Phase III’ of my study plan begins, my ‘Working Outlines’ will be a ’Sentence Outline.’  They will look quite a bit like a research paper, though without transition sentences or an argument. What they will provide for me is organization of a large amount of complex material, citations, and reference points for developing shorter essays and arguments.

I will allow two days to outline the four or five points our Study Guides note as learning outcomes in each of my courses. That is eight days to become more precise about my understanding of the material in each course and define my research objectives.  Then Jelly Bean and I will enjoy six to eight weeks of long winter nights with our reference books, digging into the primary texts I am enjoying so much, and learning more about the topics that will help me appreciate them even more.

Happy Thanksgiving from America!

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.

2 Responses to It Is Time To Start Researching & Writing

  1. F.K. says:

    Dear Caowrites,
    I also feel that winter is the best time to do what you love best. I’ve begun CertHe in ECL this year and I find your posts always helpful and encouraging.
    Similar to yours, I have also divided my study schedule into three phases. First for the primary reading which I aim to complete by 31st December (I enrolled in late September!). Second phase for geared up research at the library (the stage at which you are right now). Third phase for exam focused essay practice and such.
    I eagerly wait for your posts to read them! Thank you for sharing so much with us.
    Warm regards,

  2. Essay Plan says:

    Hello Caowrites,
    Thank you for your article. Its been a long time seen I have read this kind of topic. I was planing to submit also an article here. How can I contact the admin of this site?

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