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How I Do It: Paper Writing Tips



It is only the third week of the semester and I already feel underwater. In addition to my teaching responsibilities and my usual coursework, I have also been feverishly working on a conference paper. The fact that it is a paper that will be presented to a room of people I hope will some day hire me, this paper comes with extra pressure to say something meaningful.

I am sure you can all relate--writing is terrifying! Every time I sit down to work I am paralyzed by fears of failure and ineptitude (who isn't?). But writing, no matter your major, is a life skill we all need to master! So I thought I would share my paper writing tips.

1. Stop procrastinating and start writing!
We all do it. You sit down to write and then you remember the thousand other things you need to do, and before you know it four hours are gone, your house is spotless, checkbook balanced, laundry clean, and you have written bubkiss. Writing is the act of thinking. You don't have to know exactly what you want to say, you just need to start writing. Which leads me to point number two...

2. Your first draft WILL ALWAYS BE TERRIBLE, and that's ok.
That's why they call it a first draft. Take the pressure off yourself and just sit down and write. Every writer begins with a less than stellar first draft. But trust me, if you start there (and give yourself enough time to revise) it will improve, and you will have something meaningful to say.

3. Don't start with the introduction.
The introduction and the conclusion are the hardest parts of any paper to write, so why start there? Start with the easy stuff, the body of your paper. Once you have written your first draft you will have thought about your paper on a deeper level, making it easier to craft and argument, a.k.a. your thesis, a.k.a. the most important part of your introduction. The rest will flow from there.

4. Give yourself enough time.
Writing, thinking, and revising take time. You will not be able to do it the night before, even if you pull an all-nighter. I don't care if you "work better under pressure," good writing takes time and that's all there is to it!

5. Keep it simple.
For some reason people think that "sounding smart" requires long and complex sentences. Unfortunately, longer and more complex sentences only undermine your paper's clarity. Put the thesaurus down and simply say what you mean!

Now if I could only take my own advice! Anybody else have some great paper writing tips?


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Ashley B
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9 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, writing a paper always scares the crap out of me. I'm terribly dyslexic, and grammar/other English skills don't come naturally to me. I'm horrible at procrastination, just horrible. You are absolutely right about making time to edit! The best papers I've written all come down to tons of critical editing. It helps me to give myself an earlier deadline for a draft that I have to stick to. I try to make an appointment with my university's writing center, a professor, an adviser, or TA to review my paper before I turn it in, so I have to get at least a draft done early.

    Also, a tip my high school English teacher gave me for editing was that its like tightening screws on a tire you screw in the screws loosely then go between screws tightening each more a little time. He said to first edit the thesis to fit the papers topic as best as possible, then to edit every topic sentence and make sure they explain the thesis as best as possible, then to make sure every piece of evidence supports the topic sentence of the paragraph its in, and to go back to the thesis and still make sure it explains the paper as best as possible. I usually repeat this process until I feel there is nothing else I can add, explain better, or make more concise.
    Good luck with your paper! Your hard work will payoff in the end!

    ReplyDelete
  2. These are such great tips! As far as advice goes, I would say just let it flow and be creative. That is the only way I am able to write my papers haha!

    Hunter
    Prep on a Budget

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for the wonderful tips! I'll definitely be using them this quartet!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for sharing! What can I say : I will definitely use them on my upcoming paper!

    xo
    Kira

    {apairofchicpearls.blogspot.com}

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fellow History person here (adjunct prof. currently - took an ill advised break between my MA and my Ph.D - big mistake, but I love my job, so, whatever). Love this post. I'll be sharing the "Don't start with the introduction" tip with my students this semester (I've always been an introduction first kind of writer, so this never really occurred to me).

    As for tips of my own: I always recommend the index card method to my students, particularly if it's their first major college level research paper. It's great for undergrad... but not terribly helpful to you or me. The biggest thing I've found helpful in my own writing is to give it space and let it sit for a couple days. I don't know about you, but I'm the obsessive over-editing type, and I find that letting it sit and breathe for a few days without me looking at it really helps me edit more efficiently because I'm looking at it with fresh eyes. Otherwise I always end up revising it to death!

    - Maggie
    {magpiemakingdo.wordpress.com}

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  6. Honestly, my best papers are done last minute! I'm an editing freak, so I love to edit my own papers too. I never start with the introduction, either.

    I start my second semester of college tomorrow. I'm ready to get back into the swing of things!
    Noel | http://classyincolorado.blogspot.com/

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  7. These are awesome tips. It also has reminded me how happy I am to be done with writing papers.
    -Alex
    http://www.monstermisa.blogspot.com/

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  8. When I write lab reports (I'm a science major so I write lab reports instead of papers/essays) I always try to start with the intro and get myself into a right stress and end up wasting so much time trying to get it done before I start writing the main body the report!

    Belle // thelifeandtimesofbelleh.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. We have very similar styles of writing papers. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete

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