If you are overwhelmed by the amount of information you come across while doing research for a report, one way to organize your research materials and outline your paper at the same time is to learn how to write a timeline report. Once you've learned this skill, you will be able to put this method to use in all kinds of subject areas. For example, you can use the timeline method for writing biographical reports, book reports, and history reports--not just on world events, but science history, sports history or music history as well.
Choose an appropriate topic for a timeline report. For example, if your assignment is to write a book report, your title, depending on your topic, might become "How the Character of Clara changes in the novel 'The Subtle Warning.'" For a report on baseball, your title might be "The Development of the Major Leagues." For a biography, you might end up with a title like "Monroe Middlebury's Road to Diplomatic Service." You will need to start with a topic and a working title; be flexible and recognize when and if you need to change your title depending where your research leads you.
Find at least three resources on your subject. Read through these, highlighting if using the computer or attaching adhesive-backed notes if using print materials. Note the events you consider important to your subject and the dates on which they occurred. Be liberal with your notes; you will not use everything you've marked, but it's better to have more possibilities while you're reading than to have to go back and find additional ideas.
Write each of the events you highlighted or noted on an index card or on separate strips of paper if you type them up. Make sure the date of the event appears on each one. Line up the cards or paper strips in chronological order on a tabletop. The most vital part of the preparation for writing your paper comes next: number the events in the order of importance to the topic of your paper. For example, if you are writing about the development of major league baseball, ask yourself what event probably had the most impact on the game and label it "#1." The number of events you will use depends partly on the assigned length of your paper and partly on the amount of information you need to include.
Divide the cards or strips of paper into three to five sections and label each section. For example, if you are writing on the development of a character in a novel, you might label your sections as follows: "life before marriage," "life after marriage," and "life as a widow." At this point you might have to add a few more events to make sure you'll have enough material for each section.
Compose the body of your paper using your separate groups of cards or strips as the basis for each section of your paper. Begin each section with a sentence that sets the tone or gives an overview of what the section will be about. For example, you might begin a section with a sentence like, "It became obvious that Monroe Middlebury would be involved in some aspect of public service by the time he was in high school." Write the introduction after you have written the body of the paper so that you will have a span of years to mention. For example, "From 1908 to 1948, Margetta Kine wrote work for the theater that was performed all over the world."
- "Guided Report Writing"; Marilyn Evans and Jill Norris; 2000
Peggy Epstein is a freelance writer specializing in education and parenting. She has authored two books, "Great Ideas for Grandkids" and "Family Writes," and published more than 100 articles for various print and online publications. Epstein is also a former public school teacher with 25 years' experience. She received a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri.