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Writing Center

Paper Skeleton

What Is a Skeleton?

A skeleton is the assemblage of a given paper’s first and last sentences of each paragraph.

Why Should I Use a Skeleton?

A skeleton can be used to address a bunch of different elements of a paper: precision of topic and concluding sentences, transitions, arrangement, repetition -- you name it. Mostly, it forces us to think of these sentences as joints to a skeleton, or moves being made in papers, and whether those moves are effective and accurate.

How Do I Perform a Skeleton?

First, copy and paste (or copy if working with a paper draft) the first and last sentences of each paragraph into a different document. Then, read them in the order they’re written and consider the moves these sentences are trying to make.

Example (the Following Skeleton Represents About One-Third of a Complete Draft):

  • P1​:
    Topic: Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight confines the reader to Sasha's declining mental state for the whole of the novel, robbing them of varied perspectives and enveloping them in her traumatic isolation.
    Conclusion: In doing so, Sasha creates a world within the world, one that exists behind the curtain of her mind, to remove herself from the pain of the present.
  • P2:
    T: Terrance Hawkes argues that it is human nature to create worlds – stories, myths, and the like – to deal with the immediate world creatively, rather than directly.
    C: Deep within this well, Sasha finds herself mute during moments where she might defend herself, or dignify her actions.  
  • P3:
    T: Ewa Ziarek's writing in Female Bodies, Violence, and Form, help inform Sasha's silence as having resulted from (and be Rhys' response to) sexism and the abasement of females during the time of publication.
    C: However, Sasha's outward silence that is ventilated in her mind reveals a great deal about the nature of her isolation and her means of maintaining it.
  • P4:
    T; Sasha's most telling method of isolation is what Ziarek refers to as 'petrified female tongue' (174), a silence that arises when a voice is needed most.
    C*: This is the present the novel takes place in.
  • P5: ​
    T: Stuck in the now but desperately escaping to the safe place inside her head (which proves not much better), Sasha often reflects on the past to anesthetize the pain of the present.
    C: Sasha doesn't feel a connection with men like Mr. Blank but rather perceives herself as a damaged commodity, albeit one with a small measure of dignity


*You’ll notice that this structure can and probably should be changed. Often we open and conclude in 1-2 sentences, and so paragraph 4’s last sentence is actually only half of the conclusion. 

To What End?

Many observations may be made from the above skeleton, given a reading of the entire paper. Since it’s an old paper of my own, I see now that front-loading Hawkes and Ziarek into the paper might not be the most effective use of those readings. Moreover, I can see now the transition between such readings (P2C and P3T) is pretty loose.


[ Activity written by Luke Useted, May 2015. Image by Flickr user, Shaun Dunmall and used under Creative Commons license]