Walter L. Dutton - Writer - Teacher
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Organizing Your Essay and Being Creative


It is the goal of the process I suggest to support student writers in the choices they make when they are asked to make the choices while drafting and revising is the kind of process that will produce versatile, thoughtful writers. This is not a "formula," but a process by which students can gain insight into a text and arrive at their own unique topics, ideas, organization of an essay, and foster critical and creative thinking. The creativity comes from what ideas (e.g., values, assumptions, claims) they indidvidually arrive at while organizing the information and their ideas so that the two coincide and create dissuable topics. The organization process I offer is a stratagy designed to encourage the discovery and thinking process. It includes open classroom discussion of ideas and interpretations of text and the meanings authors offer. This occurs in group assignments as well, allowing students to reflect upon the way others interpret the author and how others view the evidence. While "facts" need to be considered, they should not be simply gathered without interpretation and being subjected to the individual student's thoughts, ideas, and creativeness.

Each student writer should decide what she will write based upon her individual intentions, expressed in the form of a creatively conceived theme, not by answering a question posed by an instructor. Using the process and modifying it for each text, prompt, and subject, students can develop a repertoire of strategies for dealing effectively with different writing tasks. In my class, they see that the text makes a difference. They learn to make their own choices based upon genre, content, structure, organization and rhetorical style. Each text and prompt may call for different choices and if students do not know they are fee to creatively make those choices, they become inadequate writers.

The strategic process I teach allows the student to pass the five-paragraph essay and the Schaffer formulaic approach learned in high school. Most of my first-year students remembered and initially stick with what they were taught: five-paragraph or Schaffer (four-paragraph) but do not know that, once these formulas are known, they must move past those methods, use their creativity and intelligence, and create their own unique structures of both essay and paragraph. It seems that most high school teachers may not ensure their students "get" this important message: once those mthods are learned, move on and be creative.

My teaching has informed me that students who free themselves from those formula approaches to writing are then able to creatively and insightfully structure their own essays with consideration given to the unique prompt and text. That is why the strategic process I teach, described below, allows freedom of thought and interpretation and individuality. Students create their own academic essay based upon what they individually learn, think of and create, incluing when research is required. The structure of coupling a theme with text and ideas is entirely up to the individual. The process allows them to give their creativeness a strong sense of organization and structure that gives them an opportunity to respond effectively to a writing prompt and text.

It is with the pre-writing textual evaluation having been completed which is in mind when I teach the following organization process to encourage analytic reasoning and to produce a well structured, organized, specific, and close study of a text. I begin with an outlining process that develops the components of critical thinking. On a blank sheet of ruled paper, draw a “T” set of lines using the full page.




Major quote: Select a quote that represents a central idea or theme from the text. Write the page number next to it so you know what page to cite when writing.

Context: Separated by several lines, jot down the parts of or whole quotes that internally relate to the facts and ideas offered in the major quote. Context can come from ANYWHERE in the text but often come from the paragraphs that precede and follow the paragraph in which your major quote was found. Find several pieces of context, not just one or two. This will help you develop your ideas and arguments.

Recognize that the list of contextual evidence and references may continue for more than one page. In a few essays, I have seen evidence that continued for 3 or 4 pages. The more evidence, the more ideas and analysis available.In a research & analytical essay of a required 10 page length, the outline may exceed 14 pages.

Claim: OWN THIS SENTENCE! Write an argument that poses one set of ideas against another (explained in handout), using the ideas and how they apply to a reader.


Lesson: In your OWN WORDS, develop the lesson you glean from the major quote, contextual parts, and the meaning within the text.

Ideas: Using the list of analytical questions concerning, pathos, ethos and logos, think about the concepts offered in the major quote and the contextual parts chosen, and make a list (with brief explanations) of the ideas you relate to the textual evidence. Use pathos only briefly because it usually is not useful for an entire essay and becomes boringly redundant.

Think and rethink your ideas. They may include both the positive aspect of a value or claim and the negative of it. Be willing to consider an idea from all viewpoints. If the idea was a square cube, it would have six sides; consider all six sides and how the idea might be viewed or argued in each different and unique way.

Conclusion: Write the “answer” to your claim, treating it as a question: if an idea(s), in analysis, is more important than the other(s), write a declarative sentence stating your conclusion.



Outlining as an organization tool is far more important than most realize. The process and suggestions I provide are from years of use of outlines for various legal matters, e.g., legal briefs, deposition preparation, trial preparation. On the left side of my outlines was written the evidence from deposition testimony, documents or other evidence. On the right side was the numeric sequence of admission, legal basis for admissibility, notes for dealing with evidentiary objections, and any other idea related to the fact.

Students sometimes, perhaps more often than known, resist outlining. When I ask why there is resistance, the responses involved belief that outlining was an unnecessary step, it felt like a waste of time, it was confusing (ironic because not doing it created a confused and disorganized essay), and that the student had never done so before and received grades of “A” on their high school essays. When the first year students get their first essay back with annotations including excessive summary, excessive commentary, no analysis, no claims, no thesis, use of first person, use of second person, mixed pronouns (singular and plural), mixed tense, misspelled words, errors in word choice, and other notes, they reevaluate the idea of outlining. The purpose is not merely organization, which is crucial to a competently written analytic essay, but other purposes include: (a) limiting use of facts to only the facts needed to support the thesis, claim or argument; (b) writing a claim that avoids factual summary and states an argument; (c) writing a description of the textual lesson (avoiding factual summary); (d) writing sentences in the body paragraphs that begin with the student’s own idea about the textual meaning, together with the minimally necessary factual quotation or paraphrase needed to support the idea with textually derived evidence. Further, students usually ignore effective ideas if they do not write them on the right side of the outline across from the textual quotes or paraphrases to which the ideas relate.

Outlining allows a student to study the relationship of the parts of the text and the meaning related to the textual parts; the essence of analysis. I offer my time liberally to students to help them unlearn bad habits and learn new habits that will facilitate the individual’s writing issues. Every student comes into my classroom with a different set of issues compared to others. Some will have problems with sentence structure. Other problems include: syntax (sentence structure), verb choice, vocabulary, language issues, paragraphs that run for one to two pages, vagueness, use of overbroad concepts like society or the world, word usage, and other problems that are unique to the person. Some students experience these discoveries for the first time, unhappy that a high school teacher never mentioned it. This requires me to explain the goals and reasonable expectations of our competent teachers in high school and whether or not it is likely the student would progress if every one of these issues was pointed out in every essay at that educational level.