As the writer in the family, I’m automatically assigned to helping the kids with any type of homework assignment that includes writing. Have an essay due? Go get mom to read it. Have a research paper to work on? Mom can help with that.
Mostly, I don’t mind my role as writing helper. It’s an honor to be part of my kids’ education.
One thing that I have been trying to get across to them, however, is the important role that planning and organization plays in good writing. To this end, I am trying to encourage them to create outlines before they start writing their actual assignments. (While stream-of-consciousness writing may be effective and appropriate in some situations, I think that it fails to communicate more often than it succeeds.)
While there are all kinds of new organizational techniques (mind mapping, brainstorming, and word association come to mind), I usually find myself falling back on the old basic method of outlining that I first learned: introduction, body, conclusion. This is the basic writing technique that I am trying to teach to my kids.
For some reason, I can still hear that writing teacher of many years ago explaining those components in this way:
- Introduction. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Body. Tell them (usually with at least three points).
- Conclusion. Tell them what you told them.
A second organizational skill that I hope to impart to my kids is that it is important to keep like thoughts together. If you’re in a paragraph talking about the role of Simon from the “American Idol” television show, don’t suddenly switch subjects in the middle of the paragraph and start talking about how to become an “American Idol” contestant. So, even if your writing topic is the “American Idol” television show, your writing will be much more effective if it is organized.
I have to confess. Outlines have saved me on more than one occasion. I’m the kind of person who usually has tons of ideas floating around in my head. Sometimes I worry that I’ll forget the details about really good idea before I can have time to get it actually written down. (Don’t those good ideas seem to come at the most inconvenient times?) I’ve found that, even when I don’t have time to write the whole piece, if I take a few moments and jot down a quick outline, then the idea is saved. It’s a breeze to go back later and fill out the outline!
It’s easy in our rushed world to be like my kids and try to jump right into our writing without planning and organization. I’m guilty of it too. In the long run, however, planning and organization are critical parts of the writing process. Even professional writers can benefit from the basics!