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Using post-it notes to plan your writing

I read this post by Lizzie about using post-it notes as a motivational device on Zen College Life – a brilliant idea I’d never thought of before – and it made me think about my favourite uses for post-its. Sure they’re useful for urgent reminders and as I high school student I papered half the house in notes of formulae I had to remember and learn to use, but I think they’re great for planning longer pieces of writing. I used sticky notes to plan my Masters dissertation.

After I’d got a fair way through what I thought of at the time as ‘reading around’, and what I probably more properly ought to have called a literature review, I made a list of the points and ideas I thought were important, in the order they occurred to me. I then copied each point onto it’s very own post-it note, crossing them off my list as I went, and stuck them up in the order that they made sense together.

I’ve said that before, but this is the key point here: getting the ideas into an order that will make sense to a) someone reading the piece, who b) isn’t you and hasn’t gone through the evolutionary chain of ideas that got you personally from beginning to end. The order in which ideas make best sense to a reader is, nine times out of ten, not the same as the order they are easiest to think up or write down. To make it easy for your reader, you need to put the ideas in an easy-to-follow straight line.

The beauty of the post-it notes approach to planning is that, provided you can find a surface large enough (I commandeered the largest easily accessible blank wall at home for three months), you can spread your points out, move them around, and literally see how they fit together. Research is cyclical, and as your understanding moves on and you get a better idea of the point you’re trying to make, you can switch the notes about or add in notes with your previously unstated assumptions.

Importantly, you can also see what doesn’t fit and file these points away for future use elsewhere. You may find some interesting points but if they don’t add value to the question you’re supposed to be addressing, then you need to file them away for future use. Don’t try to crow-bar them in somewhere. It gives you less space to talk about what you are supposed to be addressing, and may confuse or even irritate your reader. But then I’m still working on putting this one into practice.

I’m sure there must be many more uses for sticky notes – how do you use yours?

3 Comments

  1. Lizzie B. says:

    Hey, it’s Lizzie (the girl who wrote the post-it entry on zencollegelife). I’m flattered that you thought my idea was “brilliant”! Anyway, I really liked what you had to say in this post. I’ve never thought of using post-its to help me write my essays but it totally makes sense. I’ll definetely try it for my next essay! Great blog, you should write more!
    -Lizzie

  2. [...] and paste it up on the wall in front of your computer. They are great writing prompt simulators, fabulous for story boarding (I do this), editing tools (your Word program uses a concept based on sticky notes with their [...]

  3. Noelle says:

    I linked to your article on my recent blog post about brainstorming and post-it notes. Thank you! http://wp.me/p1TUSW-2X

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