How to Write a Paper
This short article offers guidance for students and anyone else writing a paper. It is based upon my personal experience writing and teaching, with helpful concepts and tips. Of course, everyone is different, so adapt as needed to suit your needs.
I have written a lot over my years. I am lucky to have had many good teachers and a lot of practice through work and by writing dozens of articles and two books. But still writing doesn’t come easy. Over years of teaching I have implemented a phased process to aid my students with the writing process and encourage continual research and refinement. This provides opportunities for feedback during the semester, and enhances learning before the paper is submitted.
Anyone and everyone can improve their writing skills, whatever their background and wherever they are starting from now. The key is practice and effort.
Here are my tips.
1. Work to develop good skills and habits with your writing process.
2. Learn to type well. Free and reputable websites and apps can help you.
3. Keep track of your electronic documents with good organization. Use good filenames, make backups, and know which is your current version.
4. Keep improving your usage of your word processor (e.g. Word, Pages, Google Docs, etc.).
Tips for your next paper
5. Put in continual effort. Writing a paper is process that takes time and effort. Plan ahead so that you can continually improve your paper, and so you do not have to rush into a deadline.
6. You cannot write it at the last minute. Last minute work on a paper can result in a sloppy submission and worse. Instead, resolve to put in continual effort.
7. Do not panic, try to relax. Some stress can improve focus, but panic does not help. If you feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the paper that is due, focus on smaller steps and try to accomplish each little by little. If undue stress persists, take deep breaths, do pushups and sit-ups, or go for a walk.
8. Don’t procrastinate. That won’t get the job done. Force yourself to accomplish a smaller task, or to work on the paper for a set period of time.
9. Designate a period to focus and don’t get distracted. (20, 40, 60 minutes straight). This might be referred to as a “Pomodoro”.
10. Take a break and come away from the paper. Your mind needs a rest. Whether the break is ten minutes, an hour, a day, or even a week, this rest period can help. Your brain may still be working during this break. When you return to the paper, you will have fresh eyes.
11. Do not try to find shortcuts, nor look at sample papers or other student work. This is often a confusing waste of time and may violate rules. Instead of looking for an easy way out, resolve to put in effort and do your own work.
12. Don’t copy or cheat or do anything unethical. This goes without saying! But some think about it and some actually do it. Copying provides no learning value whatsoever, and it violates trust and rules. Those who copy or cheat learn nothing and do not gain confidence in their own abilities.
13. Put in effort and submit an honest paper of your own work. Learn the material, develop and increase confidence in yourself.
14. Research. Research is a process that needs to take place throughout the paper writing process, especially at the beginning. Your research notes should include the source, what is copied/quoted, etc. Identify facts and sources, and use logic and reasoning to develop conclusions and opinions.
15. Be organized in your process. Before embarking on a first draft, work on these elements:
- Title, a good one sentence summary of what the paper is about
- A single paragraph summarizing your proposed paper. Think of this as an executive summary to focus yourself. You might be able to turn this into an introduction later.
- An outline. An outline has a number of points including an introduction, main points, and a conclusion. Each point needs a short summary with bullet points.
- A list of references (that you have read) in the course of your research.
Once you have done the above, you may be ready to start on your first draft. As you write and continue to research, all of the above will need adjustment. That’s part of the process.
16. Revise and edit your paper. Your first draft will be rough — no one writes a good first draft. Even excellent experienced writers go through many drafts. Review paper organization, thought, and reasoning. Review sentence structure, grammar, and more. Read your paper aloud to help you pay attention and to hear how it sounds. Actively learn as you edit. Do not blindly follow automated editing suggestions.
17. Write clearly. All of your words should have purpose. Be respectful of the reader’s time.
18. Understand what you are writing. You should understand and be able to explain what you write and what you mean. Never write or submit anything you don’t understand or cannot explain.
19. Cite sources when appropriate. Cite a source when appropriate, such as when you are borrowing or adopting a thought or fact, or summarizing another writer’s work.
20. Cite and quote sources when appropriate. Never copy without quoting and citing. That would be plagiarism which is against the rules and is a terrible thing to do.
21. When you cite, try to use consistent, proper, citation format. This can be tricky but always remember that the goal is for the reader to know what you are citing and be able find the material you cited. Thus, you need specify author, title of the work, date of publication, place of publication, page number (if a book), and internet link (where available). Take comfort in knowing I have struggled for decades with the annoying nuances of different citation formats. This is merely a summary so check recommended citation formats and submission guidance for details.
22. Put in continual effort!
Writing is an important skill for everyone, including students, job seekers, employees, managers, executives, and more. Good writing is a process that also involves researching, fact finding, and analysis. Everyone should know how to find facts (and discern fact from fiction), analyze facts properly, applying sound logic and reasoning, and then develop sound conclusions and opinions.
Hopefully this helps you to improve your writing techniques. Remember that the purpose of assigning a paper is to motivate you to put in effort to research, learn the material, and improve your writing. After submission there will be assessment of all of that. So do your best to achieve the goals — learn the material, improve your writing, and submit a great paper!
Additional Reading & Learning
This article is also hosted at my website at https://johnbandler.com/how-to-write-paper where I also include links for additional reading.
This is part of a sequence of articles available on Medium:
Copyright John Bandler, all rights reserved.
Posted 8/4/2021. Updated 8/8/2021.