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Pre-Writing Strategies Tutorial » Organizing Your Notes

Organizing Your Rough Notes

The heuristic strategies modeled here should provide you with a set of rough notes that you can analyze in order to decide what you want to say and do in your paper.

One strategy you can use to formulate a plan of action from your rough notes is called clustering your ideas. Clustering shows you the relationships among your ideas and suggests organizational patterns for your writing. It can be broken down into four steps: review, analyze, organize, and plan.


  • Lay out your pre-writing notes on a surface so that you can see everything at once.
  • Read through your pre-writing notes. Highlight relevant material and strike out irrelevant material. If you started with a freewriting paragraph, you will end up with a list of ideas that pertain to the topic.


  • Look for similarities, patterns, and connections among your ideas. Move from one word to the next, or try to find interconnections by looking at the whole simultaneously.
  • Draw circles and lines to graphically illustrate the relationships you see. Jot additional notes to explain the patterns and connections to yourself.
  • Now "cluster" the notes into groups to reflect the patterns and connections you identified.
  • If you did your initial pre-writing on paper, now would be a good time to put your notes on the computer. If you aren't ready to do that, try writing your ideas on index cards that you can shuffle.
  • If you did your initial pre-writing on the computer, you can easily rearrange the notes using the cut and paste commands in your word processor.

Organize with Headings

  • Add headings that describe the patterns or categories you used to cluster the material. Highlight your headings so that they will stand out.
  • If there are any ideas left over that do not fit into your categories, place them under a category called "misfits."

Try Different Plans

  • If you're lucky, clustering will suggest a plan for developing your paper; however, not all of the relationships you notice will fit into every feasible plan for developing your paper.
  • If you can think of more than one possible plan, try clustering your notes according to two or three different plans. This is easy if your notes are written on index cards, or if they are entered on the computer. For example, you could make two or three copies of your original notes, and cluster each copy according to a different plan of action.

Next page Proceed to Moving from a Topic to a Thesis