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I'm trying to write something like an essay for a blog. I'm clear about what central topic I want to write about. The problem is I have a lot of scattered notes about that subject-matter which I have no idea how to arrange. I don't know where to start from.

Is there any method you could suggest me to organize these notes in order to make a coherent essay?

How should I start?

Is there any recommended structure to follow?

I'd appreciate any kind of advice. Kind regards!

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Strunk and White advise: Make the paragraph the unit of composition.

Break all your disparate ideas up into notions that can be described in a single paragraph. Some of these will follow each other logically as a sequence of a handful of paragraphs, and some will be single paragraphs that are entirely separate.

Some paragraphs will be dependent on others. Paragraphs A and B don't discuss the same thing, they don't need to be next to each other, but you can't read B until you've read A. You may even have cycles where C need to follow B and B needs to follow A and A needs to follow C.

What you have now is a graph, a lot of ideas and a lot of relations and dependencies between these ideas. As Steven Pinker discusses in The Sense of Style (highly recommended), the main job of a writer is to find a linear path through the graph of ideas. @Ray_Butterworth gives some good ideas above for how to do this. The main things I'd add are:

  • Pick a strong opening. Something that pulls the reader in and gives them a clear idea about what they're going to get. Make sure it resonates with the payoff.
  • Don't be afraid to cut paragraphs. You can always write another essay and use them there.
  • Work forward from the opening and backwards from the end. Stop when they meet, and discard the leftovers.
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The point of an essay is to make a point. Sorry about that. It just slipped out.

Still, it is a valid statement. An essay should take the reader from a "You Are Here" vantage point to a new, hopefully more enlightened, vantage point. The job of the essayist is to find, and refine, a path that makes that journey as easy as possible.

The first task is to attract the attention of the reader. In this modern (read "cluttered") world, that ain't easy. Somehow, you have to craft a hook, emotional or intellectual or humorous, that draws the reader in. Puppies, kittens, grandchildren, long standing traditions, calls to arms, whatever it takes to convince the reader that something of value is to be had by reading on.

What should you pick? It depends. On who you are and what you feel comfortable writing about. On who you want/expect to read and accept the work. On your skill as a writer. On so many other things. This is why writing can be difficult. But, if done well, the writer does the heavy lifting so that the reader does not have to.

Your next task, is to take the reader from that initial hook to the next way station in the journey. Again, the ways of doing this are infinite. But a time-honored approach is to put those lovely elements that you used to attract the reader in the first place in danger. Puppies in cages, kittens bedraggled, grandchildren turned to the dark side. "If we do not act, BAD THINGS WILL (CONTINUE TO) HAPPEN!" Or maybe the tragedy is that desirable potentialities will not be achieved.

Oh, what should we do to avert this unbearable pain? Again, there are an infinite set of possibilities. Think this way, write to this list of people, sign property over to these parties, speak out, vote, take to the streets. Explain how the proposed course of action reverses the trend, fixes the problem, makes us all into heroes.

Finally, it may well be the case that the journey requires a number of sub-journeys. Then you have to lay out the path, groom the walkway, put up signage, and provide snacks at key stops along the way. All in service of the desire to keep the reader moving in the desired direction.

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I have a lot of scattered notes about that subject-matter which I have no idea how to arrange.

You could go back to the old fashioned method:

  • Write each note on a separate index card.
  • Clear a large space on your floor.
  • Shuffle and scatter the notes on the floor.
  • Randomly examine cards and rearrange them:
    • If the ideas are similar, place the cards side-by-side.
    • If one idea supports another, place it below the other.
    • If ideas are very different, and move them far apart.
    • If (whatever other patterns you find) ….
  • Keep doing this with individual cards and then with groups of cards.
  • Go away and come back later, and refine it even more.
  • Eventually you'll have some small number of organized sets of cards.
  • Determine the essential point of each group and write them on another set of cards.
  • Repeat the whole process using only those points.
  • Recurse as necessary (e.g. you're writing a large textbook, not an essay).
  • Gather up all the cards in that order.
  • Write it all down as one long piece.

And then don't hesitate to revise it, making it more coherent, and even moving sections around if you think it improves it.

And if you can think of ways of doing this that make it easier for you or more appropriate for the topic, go ahead, the above list is a guideline, not a strict formula.

And yes, if you know how to do all this on your electronic devices, that's fine, just don't ask me how to do it.

I myself find the overall effect of having hundreds of ideas spread out on the floor and watching them become organized a satisfying experience.

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