Another school year, another set of papers to be assigned and written. It’s completely understandable to look at those syllabi with a feeling of dread. The first paper of the semester is often the most daunting, and it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. It’s a mighty big leap from writing text messages and emails to producing a well-written research paper. Luckily for you, I’ve made a list of tips to remember when it comes time to tackle the assignment and secure your grade.
1. Start early and take it slow.
I am completely aware that your parents and every teacher you’ve ever had have told you this, and you’ve likely never taken their advice. I am personally not a procrastinator and am usually finishing my papers as my friends are just beginning to write. All I ask is this: attempt it once, and see what happens. If you find that you still prefer to procrastinate, then by all means continue to do so.
2. Find your sources and read through them all before ever writing a word.
It’s obviously important to find your sources before you start to write. Otherwise, you’d be making your supporting arguments up, which defeats the purpose of a research paper. By looking through them first, you’ll start to have an idea of how you want to address each source (rather than plugging them in blindly, which can get rather messy). Reading your sources will also put you in “academic writing mode,” where you won’t find any LOLs or emoticons. Strive to keep the tone of your paper formal, like the tone of your academic sources.
3. Outline your paper.
Another worn out piece of advice—but it’s worn out for a reason. Outlines are your best friend when it comes to writing papers (and I’m not talking about those weird umbrella outlines we did in elementary school). I always start papers in Word, with my thesis, major sections, and random ideas typed out. Then I work within each section little by little, until eventually it becomes a paper. It works for me, and I always recommend it to other students.
4. Start writing.
As you’re actually writing your paper, you may find that you’re still struggling with the assignment. If this is the case, feel free to make an appointment at the Writing Center, where awesome tutors are always ready to lend a helping hand (shameless self-promotion, I know). Sometimes all it takes is a second set of eyes!
5. Keep calm and carry on.
I know, it’s the most overused phrase ever. But that’s because it’s true! Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated and throw all of your papers in the air (that would just make a big mess). Take a deep breath. Have a snack. Give yourself a break. Have faith in yourself, and keep going.
Approaching a paper with fear or angst will only make the process worse. Do your best to stay positive and determined to write the best paper possible. Here’s to a successful semester, happy professors, and happy students!