30 Ways Students Can Think Outside the Box to Write Their Best Academic Papers Ever
There are thousands of articles on the internet that can help students with the nuts and bolts of academic writing; everything from how to choose a topic to how to edit the completed project is covered, and has been covered (let's be honest) half to death. Students who need that sort of help are in luck, because a simple Google search will find all kinds of relevant articles.
What is much harder to find are articles that cover the many other aspects of writing term papers and research papers. These other aspects include everything from understanding personality traits and degree of work ethic to self-censorship. This short article will address some of these most important aspects of academic writing. You might find yourself surprised by some of the items on this list.
1. Be honest. Be honest about your deadline, your writing speed, your ability to procrastinate, your willingness to work hard, your tendency to party – all of it. If you don't know these things, then you will continue to fool yourself and never get anything done. In other words: know yourself. If you don't, then you won't get too far, either in writing or in life.
2. Pay attention in class. Yes, I'm talking like your mother. After all, you're paying for that class one way or another. Furthermore, it's a good investment. You can either listen and take notes now, for 50 minutes, or you can put in several hours later trying to catch up on what you missed.
3. Along those lines, be sure to ask a question or two while you're in class. Surely you don't understand everything you hear the first time, right? So, open your mouth and ask. That's why you are there – that is why your professor is there – to ensure that you learn what you need to know, in life and on the job.
4. In addition to making the most out of your class time, be sure to read the materials associated with your class. That means read the chapters in your book, the articles in your course pack, and anything else your professor gives you. Again – this is your education, for which you or your parents are paying. You need to make the most of it. Besides, the investment in time you make now will aid you tremendously when you're ready to write your paper.
5. Make a few friends in class – or at least a few colleagues – and don't do it just so you have more people you can go out drinking with. Do it because you can learn far more effectively when you learn with other people. They can also help you with your paper, from choosing a topic to proofreading the final version.
6. You can also find colleagues online, particularly if you attend distance learning classes and can't exactly hang out at a table in the student union to study with classmates. Check out forums, discussion groups, and other such venues that are relevant to the paper you are planning to write (or are, in fact, writing).
7. Make a plan for your paper. This includes making an outline, but means much more than that. It means scheduling when you will choose your topic, when you will create that outline, when you will gather sources, and when you will do everything else until you're handing it in. Then stick to that plan.
8. Before you embark upon your plan, review your class notes, visit your professor if needed, browse through some books and articles that relate to your topic, and just allow what you read and hear to sink into your brain. Don't force it – just let the information feed your mind. It will help to inform the whole writing process.
9. Are you stuck before you start? Do you have writer's block already, and you don't even have your outline? Well, you have two choices. If you have lots and lots of time, then give yourself another day or two to read up on your topic. If you don't, then sit down at your computer and write. What you create at first will be crap. It will stink. But if you keep going, it will get better and better. Then go back later, throw out the stupid stuff, improve what can be improved, and feel good about yourself.
10. So now you have your outline. Are you sure it's OK? Get someone to check it out – another student, a colleague, one of the folks at the writing center. The outline is the foundation for your whole paper, so make sure it's good.
11. Once you know your outline rocks, pick your sources, and make them good ones. With the right material – with solid content – you can write something fabulous. Without good materials, you can't do much. Don't forget to choose some materials from your class; if your professor told you to read them, then s/he has an investment in them and will be unhappy if you exclude them.
12. Now is the time to do something you might not usually do, but I promise you that it will serve you well. Get organized. I don't care what your room looks like, but your writing process needs to be neat and organized. The best way to do this is to follow the outline you so carefully prepared. But what does that mean, exactly?
13. First, it means sorting the reference materials into categories based upon the items in your outline. For example, if your introduction gives an overview of the history of Medicaid, then go through the articles you chose and pick an appropriate number which you will reserve for the introduction. Pick the ones that make the most sense to choose.You can certainly use those sources in other parts of the paper, but this way you will know that you are covered for the introduction.
14. Second, being organized means taking a methodical approach to the writing process. And so, consider the overall length of the paper, and allot numbers of pages to each section accordingly. For example, the introduction might be one page, each section in the body might be three pages, and the conclusion would be one page, for an eight page paper. Having these numbers in mind can really speed up the process.
15. Third, write in a linear fashion, at least for your first draft. Complete the introduction, then each part of the body, then the conclusion. And yes, I did say first draft. You are going to do more than one, and it doesn't matter that you hate editing, or you think you can't edit your own work, or whatever else along those lines that you believe or feel. It's important, so you have to do it.
16. Fourth, this means that you simply have to get out of your own way. Up until this point – until the actual writing takes place – the tasks involved in the writing process are very systematic. Find sources, pick sources, allocate the sources, make an outline – none of this is what one could call real writing. That means that you – the you who will be writing this paper – are not required to be present for those initial stages in the same way that you have to be present when you write the thing. If writing is at all scary or unpleasant, you just have to get out of your own way.
17. What does this mean? It means that you write whatever comes into your mind to write. Of course, you can't alter what is contained within a source, but everything that goes “around” those sources is your writing. Your writing equals you, which means you will tend to censor yourself. That is what people usually do. So, force yourself to put whatever comes into your mind onto the paper (or computer screen). Even if it's terrible, write it down. After awhile, even if you would swear you have the worst writer's block ever, you will find it all flowing. Trust me.
18. Now that I've mentioned both computers and organizational skills, let me remind you to back up whatever you do. Save compulsively; every time I write a sentence, I hit control-s and save it. Then once I'm done for the day, I throw everything I've written onto an external drive. You can use the cloud too. Whatever you use, the lesson here is to have a back-up – particularly if you are not the most organized of people. This goes back to the first point, which is “know yourself.”
19. While you're in the thick of it, you will be tempted to sustain yourself with coffee, energy drinks, sugar-filled junk, and other “foods” that give you quick bursts of energy followed by serious downswings. I don't want to tell you how to run your life or take care of your body, but I can tell you that these things will only slow you down because they will muddy up your brain.
20. Resist the impulse to change your topic just because things get hard, or because the sources you found for the fifth section don't fit as well as you had thought they would. If your topic was good a week ago, it's still good. Keep the topic, keep your outline, and make it work. Every time you change things up, you lose hours of your life.
21. Stop quoting! Everything you read is not exactly classic prose. If you find yourself overdoing it on the quotation marks (and by that I mean, if you are including more than one quote per page), then back off. Here's an easy way to do it. Read through the part of the article you want to include. Put the article DOWN, preferably across the room. Come back to your paper and write about what you read. Then go get the article and throw in a citation. Now you've avoided yet another quote. At the same time, IF you quote something, reference it properly in your paper to avoid plagiarism and copyright violations.
22. Yes, I did say that word: citation. Depending upon your major, you will be most familiar with one, perhaps two, of the many citation styles there are. This means APA for psych majors, MLA for lit majors, Chicago or Turabian for history majors, so on and so forth. Whatever your primary citation style, be sure you have it in front of you while you are writing. It will be a long time before citing sources and completing reference pages is second nature to you, so just have the guide in front of you and don't pretend like you know it already.
23. Do you have questions as you go along? Well, then ask your professor! Please remember, they are there for you. They are there to help you learn and grow – or at least to learn. Email or stop by during business hours – no question is stupid – just reach out and ask for help. But please also remember to keep all of your communications professional and as correct as possible where language is concerned.
24. Why should you do that? Because believe it or not, professors are people too. That means that if you use text-speak to communicate with your professor one day, and hand in some sophisticated prose the next, she's going to wonder about where, exactly, you got that paper. Those suspicions will be all too easy to bleed into the grading of your paper. Show your professor that you know the English language all the time, not just when it's time to turn in your final project.
25. While you're writing, try to stay open to new ideas and perspectives. I know, I know, earlier I told you to not deviate from the original plan. But don't be all rigid about it. If, while you are reading, you come up with some insight that's twice as smart as your original thesis, then figure out a way to shift the paper. If you find that your prize article is really a dud, then change it out. There is a gray area between changing things up every ten seconds and clinging like a leech to a terrible plan. Live in that gray area.
26. Make sure you set yourself a writing limit per day and then stick to it. For example, if you have a week on a paper and it's ten pages long, then write at least three pages a day so you're done in four days. That gives you a day to proofread and edit, and two more days to get to step number 29 below. Here, you really have to know yourself; meaning, know the tricks you will use to talk yourself out of doing what you need to do and then outmaneuver yourself.
27. Once done, it's time to proofread. Boo hoo, I know no one likes to do it, but you have to. If you are lucky, you have a classmate who can edit your work while you edit hers. But if you go that route, you need to be really honest about your friend's ability to edit papers. If they stink at writing, for heaven's sake don't ask them to help you. Be honest in return as well. KNOW YOURSELF. Have I said that enough times already?
28. Along those lines, if you and/or your friends are all terrible at editing, then get yourself to the writing center (if you attend class on an actual campus) and get some help. Don't be too proud to ask for help, either – we all need help sometimes, and if you hide your need for improvement, you'll only be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
29. Once it's done and in final form, put it away for a day. Try to put it out of your mind. Then a day before you have to hand it in, take it out and read it from start to finish. What do you think? Anything pop out at you that's wrong? Awkward? Missing? Alternatively, are you dumb-struck by your brilliance? The space you take between your “final” edit and this final read will enable you to see things you missed before. So, all you need to do is tweak them now and you're good to go!
30. If everything you've just read seems like Sanskrit to you, it might be time to get some help. There are model academic writing companies out there that can assist you with an excellent model – a guide – to writing your own paper. There are also editing and proofreading companies out there if you'r terrible at editing and you don't have any classmates who can help. The main lesson? Don't be too proud to ask for help.