Key to writing papers: don’t wait until eleventh hour
Part three in a four-part series on grade-improvement strategies
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 1, 2011 14:09
One of the most difficult aspects of any upper-level class is the final research paper. Chances are that you will be faced with at least one, and perhaps multiple research papers that will be a large part of your final grades for the classes you are taking. These are not something to take lightly.
Too many times students wait until the last minute to start a research paper, and as a rule, the higher the course level, the more detailed and lengthy they will have to be. But, just as I mentioned in my article on taking tests, there is an easy solution to taking pressure off of yourself: start early.
If the research paper is due at the end of the semester, as is usually the case, one of the best things you can do is to pick a topic early. Within the next few weeks, you should have a good idea of what each course will be covering during the semester. After you get an idea of the topics that will be covered in the course, start brainstorming ideas for paper topics. This very important step is often overlooked, but if this step is properly approached, the rest of the paper should be substantially less overwhelming.
I like to take five note cards and write out five different ideas for a paper topic — one per note card. If you have read some of my previous articles on grade improvement, you may be able to guess what I'm going to suggest next: go to your teacher for help during his or her office hours. Bringing those five different topics to an instructor will not only show the instructor you are a serious student, it will also allow them the chance to foresee possible difficulties with writing a paper on each topic. If a topic is too specific, there may be problems finding existing research upon which to base the paper. If the topic is too broad, it will be next to impossible to write a paper with the substantial details characteristic of a well-written paper. Teachers are much more willing to assist you this early in the semester than they are three days before the paper is due.
Once the professor has guided you in selecting your topic, it is important to immediately find enough scholarly sources upon which to base your paper. For those who are new to research papers, the library is an excellent source of help in finding these articles. It is important to get more sources than the minimum requirement set forth by the professor. Many times you will find that at least one of your sources does not apply to the specific topic upon which you are writing.
When reading the sources, make sure to highlight the direct quotations you would like to use in your paper. I always re-type them on my outline with proper citation, so I don't forget during my writing. After copying the quotation, I like to quickly write my thoughts on the quotation beneath it, so I end up with an outline of the paragraph I am going to write in my final draft. By the end of your reading and note taking, the paper is halfway written.
Once the reading is complete, take the notes and structure them so they flow from topic to topic. It is very important that the final paper has seamless transitions that are clear and logical. Once my outline is complete, I write the introduction and thesis statement. Using my notes, I create the body of the paper so it will always work to prove my thesis. Remember: an "A" paper will be detailed and highlight your ability to think critically about your outside research and how it applies to your thesis. Every paragraph should advance the proof of your thesis.
Finally, the conclusion should highlight the key supporting points found in the body of your paper and serve as a final proof of your thesis. Once your paper is written, you are still not completely finished. Always proofread. Once you have proofread the paper, let someone else look over it as well. The tutors at the writing center will help you with this as long as you give them ample time in which to assist you.
Writing an "A" paper is something that takes time. The best thing you can do to ensure a great grade is to start early and break the paper up into manageable steps. Set due dates for each step of writing the paper and stick to those plans. If you can remain disciplined in your approach to writing these make-or-break papers, a high mark in the class is easily within reach.
Columnist Phil Parham is a law and society major at Armstrong.