Talking out a paper: The best way to create a 1st draft

One of the last tactics I learned in college turned out to be one of the most beneficial.

“Marshall, talk out your paper.”

My last semester, I met on and off with a friend who was new to philosophy to discuss… well, philosophy (more precisely, David Hume).

My friend and I discussed the topics for our first research papers. Finally, a few days before the paper was due, he asked how exactly I was going to structure my paper. I think he wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly. (At this point, I was a senior as a Philosophy major.)

Yeah, I didn’t have much idea how I’d structure my paper really. But I did know, vaguely, one important detail in my argument.

Using that detail as a base, I explained how I would structure my paper. It wasn’t difficult once I got going because by that point I’d written a number of Philosophy papers already. Subconsciously, I knew the structure.

So I talked out my whole paper. My whole paper.

I didn’t even realize the benefit it had until I returned home and began writing up the paper. It flowed naturally. And because of the natural flow, I completed most of the paper before I turned to editing, which is usually my problem: editing too soon.

I realized then that for most of my papers, even after I’d spent hours and hours writing them, I couldn’t talk them out. For most papers, I had no idea what I was writing.

Something about having to formulate a paper into spoken words, though, is powerful.

So take this advice and learn before your senior year (if you’re past that already, it’s still never too late to learn). Find a trusted friend and talk out your paper.

  • Your friend probably won’t understand. That just shows you where you need to elaborate in your paper.
  • You’ll probably feel foolish. That just means you’re not confident in your paper.
  • You’ll probably mess up the structure completely. That’s okay. You’ll get it better next time… when you actually write it.

Here’s the best way to understand why this tactic works: talking is the quickest way to get out your first draft, trash it, and get on to your second draft.

You could do something similar on paper but it would take longer, wouldn’t provide instant criticism, and would be more difficult to throw out completely, which you need to do.

So start with a talk, not a paper.