Let's say that you are going to write a theoretical paper/thesis/book (that is, you're not conducting empirical work). More often than not, I find it troublesome to just start writing right away, especially when I don't know what the results of my investigation is going to be.

What are some good ways to structure and organize your material, as well as your workflow, before starting to write?

2 Answers 2


Of course, it's disastrous to be so disorganized that things get lost, work has to be duplicated (even if it's just typing), etc.

On the other hand, I observe that many novice writers over-allocate their time+energy to "planning". I say "over-allocate" exactly because (as in the question) when one doesn't have too many details about the sequel, it is hard to plan. Further, especially in thesis situations, and, even for more experienced people, in book writing, the very process significantly changes one's viewpoint, so that an initial plan/outline/table-of-contents/statement-of-intent easily becomes grossly inaccurate over time+experience.

For example, although it is interesting, and an interesting exercise, to try to write an introduction or preface at the beginning, it will most likely prove wildly irrelevant, and have to be scrapped nearly entirely.

A second crucial mechanism is (as suggested in the questioner's self-answer) feedback, and, equally, iteration of the writing/editing cycle.

The two concepts combine to suggest that one should not waste time doing nothing, but pretending to be trying to fathom what one will think, and what one will discover, some months in the future. Hesitation delays the very experience that will bring to life one's future viewpoint! :)


Stephen Mumford, an english philosopher, has created what he calls the Mumford Method. It is basically a prescription of how to structure your notes as well as how to utilize presentation opportunities to get feedback and redraft the material.

  • 2
    Could you provide a more in-depth summary of the essentials of this method? That way, people can decide if they want to pursue this in greater depth or not.
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 16:45

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