The reason I write is to have the opportunity to think deeply about a subject, then share it with others. I write to record ideas so that I can draw on them later, although admittedly, I seldom do. As an educator, I write to direct, facilitator, and coach others in finding ways to develop their own writing and learning processes as well. I write to connect with others.
To this end, I share a recent writing topic my composition students and I discussed this week: the 3Ms to writing.
Matrix of Ideas
When writers begin reviewing the literature, having a matrix of ideas (claims) and sources can help organize one's ideas around a thesis statement. A matrix provides an easy way to see how claims from various sources compare and contrast with each other, and can show any ideas that lack sufficient support. Students have a tendency to rush to judgment when it comes to deciding whether there are enough sources or not to support a claim, so typically I provide students with a variety of free online databases for finding articles and discuss how a Boolean search using proper search terms can be useful as well. If the learner has thoroughly looked through the numerous free online databases available and has tried differed search terms, the learner and I make a joint decision in shifting the topic (thesis statement) to one that is more feasible.
Once the matrix of ideas has been completed, then the writer is ready to complete a mind map (or outline) that provides a visual representation of how the ideas will be organized. Claims (premises) that align with the thesis statement are presented in the mind map with corresponding evidence (sources found in the matrix) so that writers are thinking about coherence before creating the first draft. Typical organizational patterns that occur at the essay, section, paragraph, and sentence level include chronological, temporal, spatial, process, general to the specific, abstract to the concrete, theoretical to the practical, least important to the most important, to name a few.
Another way to look at the mind map is to create a visual for choosing the overall reasoning pattern for linking premises to a thesis statement. Typical reasoning patterns include the following:
- One-on-one reasoning
- Side-by-side reasoning
- Chain reasoning
- Joint reasoning (Machi & McEvoy, 2009).
Based on the mind map, the writer now is ready to begin developing the body paragraphs by respecting the predetermined organizational and reasoning patterns that are most appropriate for a particular thesis statement. The MEAL plan assures that each body paragraph is properly developed by including a topic sentence and supporting sentences that provide evidence and explanation of claims (see also PEEL).
When writing an academic essay, consider the 3Ms, in the order presented above. It can become counterproductive if a writer begins doing a mindmap if a research matrix has not already been considered. Similarly, writing a first draft (using the MEAL plan for body paragraphs) without having an idea of how the essay is to be organized can result in major draft revisions that can become frustrating for the writer.
Happy National Day of Writing!