Tiny text, narrative outline: A new storytelling planning technique

You know I love Kamler and Thomson’s Tiny Texts–and we talk about them at length in our Academic Writing Trouble book.  I’ve also talked before about narrative outlines. 

This post is a simplified update on narrative outlines that merges the two. I wrote it for the new book Inger Mewburn, Shaun Lehmann and I are writing for NewSouth, currently called Level Up Your Essays, basically Writing Trouble for undergraduates.

Writing a bullet point plan doesn’t fill up much blank space, and is often difficult to follow as it encourages you to put in too many ‘points’ and not enough ‘argument’.

Instead write an outline that tells the story of your section or chapter or article.

Bird above forest.png
Once upon a time, a hero started out on a journey:
Write down who, what, where, when, why, how much, etc.

The purpose of the journey was to find out:
Write down the purpose of the essay, what question will it answer?

At the end of the journey, the hero found:
Write down what your research shows. This is the answer to the question.

The most important thing the hero found on the way was:
Write down the most important finding. Describe it in as much detail as you need!

How did the hero get there?
Write down the logical path (or argument) that you used to get from the question to the answer.

The hero’s secret weapon was:
Write down the tools you used to find out this information. This is probably a method, methodology, or theory.

The major challenge the hero faced was:
Write down any significant objections, alternative viewpoints, weaknesses in the data or similar.

The hero overcame the challenge by:
Write down why your final findings are still stronger than these weaknesses. (The alternative viewpoints belong to an earlier stage of scholarship; the data has limitations but is still useful etc).

The hero’s journey matters because:
Write down why your findings are interesting, important or useful.


If this looks a lot like the Kamler/Thomson ‘Locate, Focus, Anchor, Report, Argue, Significance’… that’s because it is! Sometimes it helps me to think about the plan in Tiny Text ways, sometimes I need something a bit baggier and more narrative. I hope this helps you to tell your story, and the story of your research!

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