Tips for Organizing a Massive Project

I’ve just put the finishing touches on a large writing project that required extensive research.

One reason I’m happy with the result is that the final wrap-up wasn’t an exhausting slog to the finish line – because I got organized early in the process. You can, too!

  • Keep a running list of your sources and research. I probably still print out too much stuff, because it’s helpful for me to see it on paper. But I also keep my own list of URLs (and brief notes about what I got from them), as well as a list of contact info for anyone I interviewed. You never know when you’re going to have to go back to them, and having to hunt ‘em down – usually on deadline – can be maddening.
  • If you do collect papers, find a single box big enough to fit them all and keep everything associated with that project in it. It may not be super-organized inside the box – but you know it’s all there somewhere, instead of strewn all over your office.
  • If the document requires a glossary, compile it as you go. Don’t wait until the end to re-read the whole thing to decide what needs to be in the glossary.
  • When you’ve determined the basic size and scope of the document, create a simple Table of Contents that you can change as needed. Sometimes, looking at the TOC is when I realize some things should be moved around.
  • Also make a checklist – a table to track your progress or whatever details matter most to you: What’s the file name? What's the deadline for each chapter/phase/interview? What date did you send each draft of each chapter to the client, and when did they respond? If it’s a multi-person project, who’s working on what?

The bigger the project, the more little details there are to trip you up. With some forethought, you can tame them and feel a lot better about your work.