Getting started is probably one of the greatest difficulties that skilled and unskilled researchers and writers face. There is always a wealth of data you can develop. The only problem is trying to get a grip on where to start.
a. What is the requirement? Your first step is to understand clearly what the actual requirement is, not just what you think it is, before plunging into your investigation. You have probably read or written a document that clearly was not what the boss wanted. Your task is to clearly identify the requirement that underlies the task (see fig 2-2).
Clarification of the requirement calls for you to use good critical reasoning skills to ensure you understand the requirement, its ramifications, and what you need to accomplish. The first part of lesson 1 gives an overview of proven critical reasoning and creative thinking principles. These principles are indispensable to researching, writing, speaking, directing tasking of peers and subordinates, and ensuring you understand taskings from superiors. Before proceeding further, we recommend you review Lesson 1, Critical Reasoning and Creative Thinking.
b. Gathering data. Your second step is to begin gathering data. The question is "where do you begin looking." One helpful technique is what we call mindmapping. Mindmapping is a structured brainstorming technique that emphasizes capturing the free flow of ideas and discovering the relationships within and between the ideas. It is an especially effective tool to help you identify what you already know about a given topic along with showing you where you need more information.
For example, you've just reported to the team tasked with developing a plan that ensures the safe withdrawal of US forces from Haiti. The team must also satisfy all the key players' (President, State Department, Congress, DOD, and United Nations) requirements. Your team leader knows you have an interest in Caribbean history. During the inbriefing, your team leader tasks you with putting in place an electoral system that ensures fair and democratic elections in Haiti.
(1) First, take a sheet of paper and record in the center the general topic of your paper. (You may also use electronic media to do mindmapping.) In this case, you would write the words Haitian Elections. Underneath the topic, write down who the paper is for, your audience: Haitians, Politicians, United Nations, and United States (see fig 2-3).
Figure 2-3. Mindmappingfirst step.
(2) Next, randomly record everything you know about the topic and your audience (see fig 2-4).
Figure 2-4. Mindmappingsecond step.
(3) Look over your notes and identify the relationships among the ideas you have recorded. Try to tie these ideas together using symbols and lines that help you to see them (see fig 2-5).
Figure 2-5. Mindmappingthird step.
(4) Finally, transfer these relationships to another sheet of paper. At this point you will begin to see the possible major parts of your research along with holes where you need more information (see fig 2-6).
Figure 2-6. Mindmappingfourth step.
Now you can use your time effectively to collect information on specific areas where you need further data rather than trying to research everything on developing an electoral system for Haiti. This also leads you to the planning phase of writing.
Another technique to capture what you know and don't know about a topic is what we call fishboning. Fishboning, unlike mindmapping, first divides the topic into its major divisions. Each major division serves as a branch off of the topic. Next you divide each division into its many elements or branches. This helps you identify your general and specific knowledge about the topic (see fig 2-7).
Figure 2-7. Fishboning.
c. Thesis statement. The problem you are investigating is at the very heart of any report, paper, or research. This is the most important element of your writing. It is here that you clarify the problem. This is the point where many writers fail--they are not able to tell their audience why the topic merits serious consideration. The thesis statement tells the audience why the topic demands attention. You do this by clearly stating your topic and your purpose (or assertion) on the topic. Your position is what you want to accomplish.
Thesis = Topic + Your purpose or assertion on the Topic
The statement, "Creating an electoral system for Haiti" is merely a topic. It fails to tell the reader why the topic is important. Look again at the Haitian scenario. You have received a task: to develop an electoral system that ensures fair, democratic elections. This task is not a thesis statement, but you can make it into one.
Let's take this task and see how you can accomplish this.
Topic: The Haitian Electoral System.
Position: To create a fair and democratic electoral system for Haiti.
Thesis Statement: This new Haitian electoral system will ensure fair and democratic elections.
Notice that by restating the topic and purpose as a thesis statement you have done two things: identified the topic and made an assertion that you can write about. You can also come up with several other thesis statements for the topic. Each one will take a different direction. The following are some examples.
Topic: Creating an electoral system for Haiti becomes:
People who feel safe will vote their conscience.
A democratic electoral system will work when we eliminate private armies.
A democratic electoral system will work when we enforce the law equally.
Good writing follows a plan. The plan tells your reader what your thesis is and its major reasons. It presents facts that support each major reason. It shows your analysis of the facts, opinions, and ideas that support your thesis. It concludes with a brief summary restating your thesis.
A good plan is like an outline of your thinking. Some writers produce detailed outlines that set forth item by item what their paper will look like. Other writers operate from a mental outline that they use to develop their product. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. The major disadvantage of relying on a mental outline is ensuring you have covered your topic in sufficient detail to support your thesis. The written plan, on the other hand, helps you to see if you have covered the topic in sufficient detail. A written outline helps you to readily see holes in your research, areas that you need to consider further before writing your first draft. This is where your critical reasoning and creative thinking skills become evident.
Outlining is like designing a pyramid from the top down. You begin by selecting the topic and forming it into a thesis statement. This becomes the capstone of the pyramid. The next layer of stones consists of your major points. The subsequent layers consist of your evidence and analysis. Your analysis explains or illustrates the importance of the evidence with respect to the thesis. When you finish you have what we call a "Pyramid of Support" (see fig 2-8).
Figure 2-8. Pyramid of support.
A good plan also includes evidence along with an analysis to help your audience understand how it supports your major and minor reasons and your thesis. Evidence (facts, experiences, opinions of experts, and other data) by itself may or may not support your thesis. Your task is to show your audience through your analysis how the evidence supports and illustrates your thesis. How you arrange your material (the outline) can help your audience understand what you have to say.
Outlines may have many forms; the key elements, however, are the introduction (which includes your thesis statement and a listing of your major points), the development of the thesis, and the conclusion. The rest is like icing on a cake to improve the appearance and make it attractive to the audience (see fig 2-9).
Figure 2-9. Building an outline.
An outline is the plan you develop to lay out your writing. Your plan needs to consider the introduction, transition, major and minor reasons, transitions between major reasons, and transition to your conclusion. The following diagram (fig 2-10) illustrates the basic structure.
Figure 2-10. Outline structure.
The purpose of drafting is to dump very quickly ALL you have to say onto the page. Your focus needs to be on the substance and organization of your document, not on what the final product may look like. Remember, you are producing your first draft. It will not look like your final product. However, when finished, it should contain the substance you need to communicate. Two techniques can help you accomplish writing the first draft: (1) use your outline and (2) draft quickly.
a. Use your outline. Your outline will help keep you focused on both the substance and organization of your paper. When using a computer to compose your text, we suggest you print out your outline and place it where you can see it clearly. Place any quotations, references, and supporting documents in the order they occur in the outline. Now begin writing. Follow your outline and insert supporting material as needed.
b. Draft quickly. Write quickly as the ideas come to mind. Don't worry about the perfect word or the just-right sentence. The purpose is to capture the ideas that race through your mind. It is very easy to lose an important idea whenever you pause to capture the right word or sentence. Therefore, write as rapidly as you can and capture those great ideas that grabbed your attention.
Good writers are invariably good revisers. They are able to set aside "pride of authorship" and critically review what they wrote. Ernest Hemingway would agonize for hours over the revision of a single paragraph. James Michener never saw himself as a good writer, only a good rewriter.
Many writers don't revise well for three reasons: (1) they don't know how; (2) they find it difficult and avoid it; or (3) they don't schedule enough time. Good writers set aside sufficient time just for revising. At the appointed time, good writers sit down and begin the revision process following established criteria to review and revise their writing. You may find the following criteria helpful as you begin your revision process. (These criteria are the same as the Standards to evaluate critical reasoning and creative thinking.)
a. Clarity. Clarity is the gateway standard. Clarity requires you to explain, illustrate, give examples, interpret, elaborate, refine, and resolve. Writers often confuse their readers by using jargon that only a few understand. You must express your thoughts clearly: make your thoughts distinct, understandable, and vivid so they become obvious and evident to your reader.
b. Accuracy. A statement can be clear but not accurate. Does the evidence support your assertions? Can you or others verify or test what you say for accuracy? Have you hit the right target?
c. Precision. A statement can be clear and accurate, but not precise. Are you specific? Is the detail sufficient to support your position? Is your focus too broad, too narrow, or about right? Have you placed all rounds in the target area?
d. Relevance. A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. Have you shown your reader how your position is part of the problem, how it addresses the question, and how it helps to resolve the issue?
e. Depth. Your document may have all of the qualities of good writing yet lack depth. Superficiality is a problem common to many writers and speakers. Does your writing identify those factors that make this a difficult problem? Have you considered the complexities underlying the subject? How do you address these complexities? Are you dealing with the most significant factors or merely superficialities?
f. Breadth. A line of reasoning may satisfy all of the above standards for assessment, yet lack breadth. Have you identified and considered other points of view? What are they? How do they relate to your problem?
g. Significance. This standard is often linked to relevance, but the two are not synonymous. Something may have relevance to the issue at hand, but have little or no significance. Have you really addressed the central idea? You list facts and other data but which are the most important? Which will have the greatest effect on the problem? Why? Why not?
h. Logic. When we write, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combinations of words are mutually supporting and make sense in order and combination, we say our writing is "logical." When the combinations of words are not mutually supporting, are contradictory in some sense, or do not make sense, we say that our writing is "not logical."
|David L. Heiserman, Editor||
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Revised: June 14, 2016