Tag Archives: roadmapping


Tortoise Tuesday: Structure in Quarantine and in Writing

It’s been over a month since Kentucky officially shut all nonessential businesses and ordered everyone to shelter in place.  Even though everything has burst into bloom here, I spend my days in my room in the basement, writing papers, zooming into seminars, and fighting against a rising feeling of desperation and fear. It’s hard to feel anything other than resignation when the days bleed into one another. The markers of time that used to rule my life are meaningless now. No matter what day it is or what hour of the day, my life looks pretty much the same. 

For me, a control freak, the unpredictability of this pandemic is terrifying. It’s impossible to know when this will end, when the world will return to normalcy, when days will again be differentiated from one another. But something that’s been helping me feel in control of my days and my life is that I’ve started making extremely detailed schedules. Every morning when I wake up I sit down and write down a plan for my day. I schedule in everything from zoom classes to helping my brother practice lacrosse. Being able to look down and see the plan for my day makes me feel better. For at least the next eight hours, I can predict the future.

When writing, this kind of structured plan is also helpful. Both when preparing to write a paper and in the final draft, it’s useful to be able to communicate to yourself and the reader what the plan is for the duration of the paper. Articulating ideas in an outline can make it so much easier to understand what you’re trying to say in a paper. Often when I’m writing, I get lost in sentence structure or word choice. In those moments, I look back at my outline to remember what I’m trying to say. Having the plan for my paper helps reorient me and feel that, rather than being a daunting impossible task, writing this paper is totally doable. 

Clearly articulating the structure of your argument to a reader is also helpful. Making sure to include a roadmapping paragraph, where you explain to a reader what sources you’re planning to examine in the course of your argument and what subarguments you plan to make, help a reader feel secure as they read your paper. I know that especially when I read long papers, roadmapping paragraphs in the introduction help orient me and keep me from getting confused. Such paragraphs remind me that the author has a plan for the paper and that I, as a reader, can relax and just follow the argument. 

Regardless of whether you’re a control freak like me or not, in the next week, when writing your papers and studying for exams, give outlining and roadmapping a try. Maybe in this bananas time, making a clear plan will help propel you across the finish line at the end of this wacky semester.

— Malka Himelhoch ’21


Tortoise Tuesday: Roadmapping in Tristan

In Gottfried von Strassburg’s medieval German version of the story of Tristan and Isolde, names are important – so important that the meaning of Tristan’s name is a summary of his whole life. Early on, Gottfried explains the name and its significance: the word “triste,” “sad,” which forms part of the name, will be a defining theme in Tristan’s life. In his explanation, Gottfried sketches the outline of his story. This roadmap does more than just tell the reader what’s coming. It also shows why everything that’s going to be included is relevant and introduces a broader theme that will recur throughout the story: the importance of names in general. This passage combines several aspects of a good introduction: it roadmaps, introduces a “key term” of sorts, and sets up expectations for what will follow, all without lengthy summary or extensive analysis that would be better off in the body of the text. The roadmap says what’s going to happen just as a paper’s roadmap indicates what the final thesis will be, but leaves the reader curious as to how Gottfried will arrive at this conclusion.

                                                                                                                  —Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

“Now ‘triste’ stands for sorrow, and because of all these happenings the child was named ‘Tristan’ and christened ‘Tristan’ at once.

His name came from ‘triste.’ The name was well suited to him and in every way appropriate. Let us test it by the story, let us see how full of sorrow it was when his mother was delivered of him, see what a sorrowful life he was given to live, see the sorrowful death that brought his anguish to a close with an end beyond the comparison of all deaths, more bitter than all sorrow. All who have read this tale know that the name accorded with the life: he was the man that his name said he was, and his name of Tristan said what he was.”

— Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (tr. A. T. Hatto), pp. 66-7