7 Easy Steps to Rocking Any Paper
There are a lot of things that I’m not particularly good at. A friend needs help with a calc problem? Or any sort of artistic endeavor? Yeah, no. That’s not my department.
But writing, that’s something I can do. I spent yesterday writing my term paper. It ended up being about 16 pages, and took me about seven hours. This wasn’t always the case, though. I was so nervous about writing papers my freshman year. But by now, I’ve more or less got it down, so here’s my recipe for writing a kickass paper without breaking too much of a sweat:
- Research. But research smart. This is actually the hardest part of writing, at least for me. Read, and read carefully. Take notes. Lots of notes. With extended quotations. And page numbers. And your thoughts on these notes—connections, trends, exceptions, etc. This takes a lot of time. But when you sit down to write your paper, all the information will be right in front of you.
- Thesis! Here is where you think about your research, and come up with an argument on the topic. EVERY paper needs a thesis. It needs to be something you can support with evidence. It needs to be something you’re interested in defending. And not least, it needs to answer the assignment! You can write a flawless essay, but if it doesn’t deal with the prompt, you’re not going to get the grade.
- Outline. This can vary in format based on your writing style and the length of the paper. For a three or four page paper, a thesis and listing out your main points should do. For a more complicated paper, it’s generally a good idea to be more detailed, especially if there are a lot of minor points that you don’t want to miss. And for something upward of twenty pages, it’s really easy to get lost if you don’t have a plan. It’s easy to get off track, distracted on a random tangent and realize you’ve run out of space without mentioning half of what you wanted to. A good outline will prevent that.
- Write. It’s not that hard. Once you know what you’re going to say…just say it. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just get it on the page
- Put it away. Obviously, if you leave it off until the night before it’s due (which is a horrible idea, by the by, profs can always tell), you can’t do this. But if you give yourself a little time, don’t look at the paper for a day or two, or, ideally, a week.
- Edit. After you’ve taken a break from the paper, you’ll be able to look at it with fresh eyes. I generally suggest making three passes at the paper. On the first, you’ll read it straight through and look for consistency of ideas, development of argument, etc. Does your paper actually argue what your thesis does? Pass two, look for style—try to eliminate awkward phrases and over-wordiness. Generally, if you can say it in fewer words, you should do so. And on the last pass, fix grammar and punctuation—the little stuff. If you can get someone else to look at your paper, too, that’s always a good idea. Someone else might be able to spot things that you’ve missed.
- Print, staple (make sure you do this!), and relax. You’ve earned it.