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Turning Thought into Prose

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Once the outline is complete, the next stage involves taking the ideas embedded within this structure and turning them into headings, subheadings, and text. Typically, the headings flow easily from the outline, which is most likely a listing of general themes. The difficult part is using these few words to generate coherent sentences and paragraphs that properly present your information and major theses. As noted earlier, the dilemma is translating thoughts into words in a fashion (written) that is different from the way we usually articulate what is on our minds. This process is akin to speaking in a foreign language where an individual must take an idea that arises in a native language, translate it into a second or third language, and present it verbally using the right pronunciations. With time and practice our abilities improve, but we rarely reach the point where technical reports flow with an ease consistent with our desires.

A way of avoiding this dilemma is to use the proverbial “bullet points” that are somewhere between individual words and text. Their judicious use within a well-written paper can draw attention to important items, but their overuse may lead to burnout by readers who have a hard time ferreting out what is important within these endless lists. A better approach is to rely more heavily on cogent paragraphs to capture and transmit meaning. A good starting place is to take every subheading and write one or a series of short paragraphs that contain all the supporting material and position statements you would like to convey about that topical area. Write as the ideas come naturally, recognizing that their translation into “proper” grammar and structure can occur at a later stage. Make sure that each paragraph has a clear yet interrelated beginning and ending, with its unique contribution accurately portrayed and highlighted in the text.

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