Email on the Paper

I just wanted to say thanks for posting “On the Spartans and the Perfect Paper” on May 17. Your suggestion of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Chorus Line” and the outline you put on really helped me structure a paper for a class I needed a good grade in. I pulled a C on my first paper because everything was too poorly held together. The A I got this time and the “This is a strong paper…” comment I attribute to utilizing your suggestions.

I just helped someone with a paper on the rise and fall of Themistocles. I sketched out an outline just to get them started and then later in the day as I was thinking about it, I wrote almost the entire paper in my head. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. The outline required a Thesis, a sub-thesis for each paragraph and then a concluding realization–literally almost the entire paper. And the focus on the format, I guess, is misleading, because it doesn’t really feel that way once you get good at it. With the thesis in mind I wrote the third paragraph first, a few sentences on the second and then conclusion.

That’s how I write and how I try to work my overall strategy in life. It’s called The Commander’s Intent. What do you need to get done? [What are you trying to say] Identify the most basic and fundamental goals of the endeavor. [Thesis] And it all flows from there. The direction always dictates the details–not the other way around.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.