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ENGL 107 College Composition: Preparing and Organizing Your Paper

This guide is for all sections of English 107: College Composition

Getting Started with Research

To help map out your research needs, it is best to think about these questions:

1. What is it that you are researching? Is it a person? An event? A cultural phenomenon? A place? 

2. What is the context? Is your topic current, or historical? Does location play a role? Is your topic local, regional, national, or international? 

3. What is the scope? Will you need to provide a back history on your topic? How far back will you go? Are you only allowed to use recent research? Will you only cover your topic in a certain geographic area? 

4. What kinds of sources will you need? Scholarly sources will make up the majority of your resources, but some topics, like current events, may need other kinds of information. Will newspapers or magazines be useful? Or, if your topic is historical, books may be your best bet. Librarians can help you figure out which sources are the best fit for your research topic. 

Prewriting Strategies

Brainstorming refers to the stage of the writing process where you generate ideas about your topic prior to writing. You can brainstorm to narrow down your topic or to come up with keywords for database searches. If you do not have knowledge about your topic, you may need to do some background research before brainstorming. Background research can consist of reading reference sources like an encyclopedia (the library has access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online), or even Wikipedia in order to gain basic knowledge about your general topic. You do not cite these sources in your final research, you're only using them to help inform your brainstorming. 

Brainstorming can be as simple as writing down ideas that come to you and organizing them. You can also try one of the following prewriting strategies to help with brainstorming ideas for your paper. 


Concept maps (also called mind or word maps) are a great brainstorming tool that can help you generate ideas for the body of your paper. You'll need a sheet of paper and a pen/pencil, or a dry-erase/chalkboard.

  1. Write your main topic in the center of your paper or board, and draw a circle around it
  2. Draw lines that shoot-off from your main topic circle for any related concepts or ideas that come to mind
  3. Create more off-shoot lines from your related concepts and ideas for details and specifics
  4. Continue this process until you've thought through all potential ideas, then look at your concept map and select 



Freewriting is a strategy consisting of exactly what it sounds like- writing freely! With your topic in mind, take 5-10 minutes to write uninterrupted. Try to write in full sentences and don't get caught up in grammar or wording at this stage- just get words out without stopping. After the 5-10 minutes, review what you wrote and highlight or make note of main ideas and points of interest. Use the things you highlighted as a starting point for organizing your thoughts and ideas. Freewriting is especially useful for helping refine your own ideas on a topic- something you'll need to do when you write a persuasive or argumentative essay, for example. 


Outlines are a widely used tool for organizing information for writing papers. Outlines help you keep your paper organized; operate as a map to lead you, the writer, (and later, the reader) through your argument; and make sure you include all the necessary information to make your point. There are many approaches to creating an outline, and you can use either complete sentences in your outline or thoughts and phrases. 
For your ENGL 107 final paper, you'll need to include specific parts, so use these as a starting point for your outline:
  1. Introduction: presents the topic, engages the reader, and explains the importance of the essay
  2. Narration: provides the reader with the context that they need to understand the thesis, claims, and evidence 
  3. Partition: “roadmap” to help readers anticipate your rhetorical moves
  4. Confirmation: offers positive claims in support of the thesis
  5. Refutation: acknowledges and responds to audience members with opposing points of view 
  6. Conclusion: reminds your reader of the importance of your position, reviews the most persuasive points, and raises questions for further discussion. 

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources, properly cited, with a short summary following each source. The summary, typically 1-2 paragraphs of 4-6 sentences, provides information about the source and why it is important to your research. Often times you complete annotated bibliographies as a stand-alone assignment, but they can also be great tools for organizing your research. Not only do annotated bibliographies help you remember what was important about a source you found, they also help you avoid plagiarism by encouraging you to paraphrase and summarize, and because you cite the source for the annotation, they're already prepared for your references page! You can keep your writing casual if your annotated bibliography is only a tool to help you organize your sources and prepare for writing.


An example of an annotated bibliography entry for a book*:

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. 

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation. An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.
*Annotated Bibliography Samples. Retrieved from:

Preparing & Organizing

Preparing and organizing your research and writing are key for creating a cohesive paper that addresses all of your points and fulfills the assignment requirements. You'll also notice that many of the following tips and strategies work for all types of assignments. As with all things research related, it takes time to find out what works best for you, so don't be afraid to mix & match from the following suggestions. Visit the Library and Writing Center for more!

Take Notes!

Taking notes may seem like an obvious bit of advice, but taking good notes is vital for organizing your research and writing your paper. Note taking helps you remember main points from your sources; practice paraphrasing and summarizing to prevent plagiarism; and helps you keep track of page numbers for in-text citations. What should you take notes of? 

  • The thesis or main point/argument of the source
  • Any proof the source includes in support of their argument
  • Any other major sources or people the source references
  • Your reaction to the source- how does it make you feel? Do you agree/disagree? Why?

Taking thoughtful notes helps immensely with other prep tasks like annotated bibliographies. Remember- the more time you spend thinking and prepping, the less time you'll have to spend when it comes to writing.