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!


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.


Related Posts

The story of my thesis

If you have ever been to one of my workshops in the last decade, you will probably have done this warm up. In fact, if you came to a multi-day writing retreat I ran, you would have done this at the beginning of each day. It is the most powerful, most flexible, simplest tool in my writing tool box.

Read More

How to unstick your reading list

As I was getting to the end of the recent book, I was buying books at my usual pace but not reading them (as that brainspace was completely taken up with reading my own draft or references for the draft).

Now the book is in and the summer has started, I felt excited to dive into all these books but I also felt stuck. I couldn’t get into gear, let alone find my groove.

So I rummaged around in my toolbox, and came up with this list of techniques. None of them are perfect, but little by little we are turning the dial back to reading.

Read More

Get the latest blog posts