WHAT IS LISTING?
Generating ideas on a topic through freewriting, brainstorming, and creating questions has a purposeful messiness to it. It is the time to let your creativity run riot and to push your thinking in new and sometimes unexpected directions. Once you have generated a lot of material on your topic, however, it is time to take stock and begin to narrow down and organize your ideas as you move towards writing a focused essay. Listing helps you to select certain ideas and organize them by grouping related concepts together. This is the most informal kind of outline in which you jot down your main supporting points and possible evidence and analysis. This kind of outline is for you only, and you don’t need to worry about making it more comprehensive if it does the job for you. Many students find this kind of outline helpful in taking timed essay exams because it is brief, and it doesn’t take much time to produce.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
When you are just beginning to write an essay, rather than making a formal outline, you can make a list. A list is a very user-friendly technique because you don’t yet need to craft full sentences but instead select your most promising ideas and start to look for connections between them. Listing is important because it takes all the free-form ideas you generated and helps you to see how you could narrow and focus the material to present a convincing, logical argument.
HOW DO I DO IT?
Start with a blank piece of paper or computer screen. Stay focused by keeping your essay assignment and/or the annotated text you are analyzing next to you. Begin making a list of everything you think you would like to write about to fulfill the assignment or to respond to in the text. Use keywords or phrases; it’s not necessary to write in complete sentences when listing. Using a bullet-list format is helpful.
Once you have made your list, go back and organize it into logical units; for example, you can use a numbering system to indicate what you want to include in your introductory paragraph, your body paragraphs and your conclusion. Arrange the ideas in the body paragraphs into a logical order. To illustrate your body paragraph points, you can add quotes, examples, or information to further research. You may find it useful to make a second, more detailed list or you may decide to turn your list, once it is full enough, into an outline.
Here are some examples of listing using Douglass and the ideas that came from the stages of freewriting, journalist questions, and brainstorming:
IDEA: Slavery harmed the mistress as much as it did the slaves
- the mistress changed – “tender-hearted” to mean-spirited
- she took the newspaper away from him so he couldn’t read
IDEA: Learning to read changed Douglass forever — became intolerant of slavery
- read Sheridan and saw good arguments against slavery
- saw slave owners as robbers stealing his people from Africa
- he came to hate (“abhor and detest”) his enslavers
IDEA: Reading as dangerous
- slave masters feared rebellion
- reading caused Douglass awareness but also despair
- “silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness”
IDEA: Denial of literacy is still used to control people
- poor urban neighborhoods with subpar schools and lack of supplies
- women in certain places in the middle east not allowed to learn to read and write
In response to Chapter VII in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (or your most recently assigned text), do the following:
Make a list of main points in the reading. Leave space under each main point for 2-3 examples that support the idea. You can put the examples in after you’ve come up with at least 3-5 main points. Afterwards, look at how the ideas connect to one another to form a possible unifying thesis or argument: