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Mapping a Paper

Assignment Summary

Many student writers think of their first draft as a completed entity. It's done, permanent, can never be changed or shifted. It has either succeeded or failed, but either way, it's already been decided. To change it would be akin to desecrating a sacred artifact or mangling a perfectly polished masterpiece (for example, taking lines out of Hamlet). "Well, whatever may be wrong with it, that's how it turned out," these writers might say. That may be a fun way to think of your writing, but it's not a very effective one, unfortunately. I'm urging you in this class to think instead of your pieces of writing as ever-changing. They are never "complete," so to speak; you can always make changes to improve them. There are time limits, however. I wouldn't, for example, recommend turning in the final draft of your Textual Analysis in 2047. But to get back to the point, if you think about it, is it likely that your first draft would be perfect? No, it's far more likely that it will be a bit of a mess. And "that's okay," as Stuart Smalley used to say on Saturday Night Live. It's sometimes necessary to get the mess on the paper so you can look at it and figure out how you can organize it. The first draft is essential not because it's final and complete and never has to be changed, but because it gets everything down on the page. Once it's done, you have something with which to work: a structure you can modify, a thesis you can clarify, points you might want to change or refine.

Mapping your paper is a way to analyze your draft and see what global and sentence level changes you'll want to make. It can be especially helpful with order and structure. Does your thesis promise four points and the paper deliver only three? Does your fifth paragraph discuss something you should have dealt with in your third? Mapping your paper can help you to see your paper as a structure, not a completed and finished one, but one open to change and reshaping. We're going to carry out as many of the following steps as we can today in class. The rest you'll want to complete over the weekend as part of the process of revising your First Draft into the Exploratory Draft.

Mapping: In the left margin, mark the parts of the first paragraph. Underline your thesis and number its points. In the left margin, label the sections of your paper. Then underline your minithesis statements (the sentences with which you begin new sections). Now, go to each paragraph; in the right margin next to each, write what you do there. For example: "talk about Stoller's tone," "discuss example on page 1." This is very similar to what you did when taking marginal notes on articles. Take 10 minutes.

Now that you've mapped the paper, look at the overall structure. Does your number of sections match the points of your thesis? Does the order seem logical? Now look at the right margins. Do things belong where they are? Is there, perhaps, a discussion on page 3 that should be on page 1? Are any points repeated more times than they should be? Should any paragraphs be split (because they contain multiple topics) or combined (because they are short and deal with one issue)? Take 10 minutes.

Look at your introduction, the first few sentences before you move into your summary. Is it gripping? Take a few minutes to jot down (without censoring yourself) improvements you can make or new ideas you might put in. Take 5 minutes.

Now, do the same for your conclusion. Take 5 minutes.

Look to your thesis statements (your main one and the minithesis statements which begin each section). Reread the main thesis a few times. Is it as clear as it can be? Jot down some possible rewordings. Then do the same with each minithesis statement. With those keep in mind also their transitional function: they should somehow provide a bridge from one section to the next, so they donít seem like totally separate, unrelated issues. You have 10 minutes.

More Questions to Ask Yourself About Your First Draft

Does the introduction summarize in 4-6 sentences the article being analyzed? Based on your recollection of the article, is it accurate?
Could the short summary be improved–lengthened, shortened, made clearer, etc?

Are the paragraphs divided up by subject (i.e., each deals with a separate aspect of the topic) or arbitrarily?

How well does you utilize the article text (by quoting specific sections and discussing longer passages)?

Is there any repetition? Where, and what should be done about it?
Is the tone appropriately formal and academic?

Does the conclusion end your argument on a strong, decisive note (usually by returning to the thesis point but with a subtly different spin)? How could it be improved?

Instructor's Comments

genre all
course WRT 101 and up
activity type individual revision exercise
skills holistic revision, paragraph-level revision
duration 1 class
draft of essay
contributor: Ryan Calvey