For a full guide to creating a distraction-free study space, check out our article on the topic.
As Cal Newport explains, it’s called a flat outline.
In Cal’s words, the flat outline works as follows: Isn’t this so much better?
Remember: asking for clarification because you don’t understand the assignment doesn’t make you stupid; what’s stupid is to complete the assignment without understanding it.
Yet, when I was an English TA in college, I saw this problem all the time.
Students would spend hours researching and writing a paper on a completely different topic than what the professor assigned.
It doesn’t matter how good a paper is–if it doesn’t answer the question, it’s going to receive a bad grade.Best case scenario, the professor is nice and lets you rewrite it, but why do all that extra work?Furthermore, asking the professor for clarification shows initiative–that you care about the assignment.If the assignment seems vague, it’s not because the professor is trying to trip you up.Often, it’s that they know their field so well that it’s easy for them to think some things are “obvious”…even when they aren’t to us non-experts.You discover what you’re going to say through the process of writing.The flat outline gives you just enough structure to overcome the dreaded “blank canvas” while still leaving room for discovery.This let me spend more time on things that I enjoyed, such as writing for this blog and taking long walks through the woods. The ultimate waste of time when writing a paper is to write something that doesn’t even answer the question the professor is asking.Today, I’m going to share this process so that you too can write papers more quickly (without a decrease in the quality of your writing). Don’t be afraid to ask the professor to explain any part of the assignment that’s unclear.I never created an outline with bullets and numbers and letters before writing the paper.I always just made one up afterwards because I was to turn one in with the final paper.