This post is written by Alyssa DeBella of thewisewillow.com, a Religious Studies and Political Science double-major who’s written so many papers that she knows exactly what to do and what not to do. Keep on reading to get to know the 5 important tips from her. I am really excited to present you my first guest post and to be working with this amazing blogger. Go check her out and follow her on Social Media.
As a double major in Religious Studies and Political Science, I have learned that there is one thing that remains consistent between the two studies: paper writing. Writing papers is a type of art form, and over the years I have figured out what works and what doesn’t. Though I wrote quite a few papers in high school, having a busy college schedule completely altered my process and approach.
This week I have two papers due, one for each discipline. Their content is completely different (one is a statistical analysis of voting tendencies, and another is an exegetical analysis of one of Paul’s letters). However, both papers (and most papers more generally) have an assignment sheet detailing expectations and the overall scope.
Step 1: Read Assignment Sheet(s) Thoroughly
When I first started writing college papers, I would read through the assignment sheet one time and then move on to the paper writing process. There would be times when I would refer back to specific parts of the prompt, but I usually wouldn’t read through the entire assignment again.
As I have continued my college study, I have learned that returning to the assignment sheet can be very beneficial to remind myself of the overall scope. When I am done with each assignment, the marginal notes, circles around keywords and topics, and highlighted requirements make the instructions look like a heavily annotated reading! I will also keep the assignment sheet until I have my paper returned so that I can look over where I might have drifted from expectations and identify how I can improve.
If you know that there is not an online copy available for your assignment sheet, take the time to make another copy (or a few!) right away in the event that semester overload takes over and you lose the prompt (which is quite possible, even for a highly organized person). If you have the ability, you can also make a copy in a brighter color that you can associate with each paper, that way you can keep the assignment sheets organized and not accidentally bring the wrong one to a workshop (easy to do when they all look the same!).
Step 2: Take Overly Detailed Notes
Often when people look at my class notes from readings and lectures, they will ask me why I am so detailed. Or, why I take the time to write out entire quotes and page numbers. This is one of my paper writing secrets! While it takes a few hours and a lot of work at the onset, not only are you very prepared for class or for exams, when you go to write your paper you have most of what you need in one place! If a quote strikes me, most likely I will have reason to use it in a future paper assignment. When I start to write my papers, I usually only need to refer to the course readings for citation information.
Because of the workload at the onset, actually writing the papers usually takes me about two hours for a completed first draft. After revisions, I feel much more confident about handing in my papers and in the work that I have produced as a whole.
Step 3: Outline!
In high school, I would outline for more difficult paper assignments, but in college, I have found outlining to be a necessity. It can help you to avoid tangents and to keep a concise focus, and often makes for faster paper writing! My outlines will usually take me about half an hour, and in the process, I will make sticky note tabs in my notebook for pages (quotes, notes, etc.) that I want to refer back to as I write my paper.
Step 4: If Offered, Make Use of Office Hours
This is especially true if it is a type of paper that you are unfamiliar with or one that you want to gain more clarity on before you finish your first draft. I have done this with new paper formats, and especially with midterm or final papers. It is helpful to prepare a list of questions or concerns prior to the appointment, and to bring the draft or outline that you have completed.
Step 5: Figure out the Writing Timeline that Works Best for You
Everyone is different when it comes to writing papers, and my timeline has changed over time. I have figured out that I am someone who works better under pressure, and in the papers that I have written over a longer time period I have found that my ideas are not as concise or well-developed. Instead, I spend longer periods of time working on each essay over a few days and wait at least one day before looking at my draft for revisions.
This process differs for midterm, final, or research papers where I will spend much more time in the writing process and revise over the course of a few weeks or months. I will also schedule many more appointments to review my writing and add sources as I go along.
Overall, the writing process looks different for each student and for different academic disciplines. But figuring out a schedule that works for your lifestyle will have many rewards throughout your academic career!
I hope that you found this post to be informative, and I would love to answer any questions that you have about paper writing in an academic setting! Feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or to connect on any of my social media!
Alyssa is a second-year college student with a passion for plant-based living, minimalism, and intentionality. She is an animal lover, an adventurer, and a lifestyle blogger at www.thewisewillow.com.
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