Yes, it can!
Okay, so it helps that I already love to write, but I’ve got to admit, my forte is creative writing, especially stories for children. Academic papers have not always been enjoyable writing experiences for me. I have, however, discovered a few tips over the years that have helped take away the headache and dread of writing research papers and academic essays.
So, here’s to all you college students who are NOT looking forward to the papers you have to write in the upcoming semester. I hope these tips serve to make your writing assignments more enjoyable!
Plan Ahead! If your 10-page research paper is due by midnight tomorrow, and you’re reading this post to find out how to write an awesome paper in 24 hours, then you’ve come to the wrong place! Your professor/teacher has given you a syllabus and class schedule for a reason, and I strongly encourage you to read ahead and see when upcoming papers are going to be due. It never hurts to be thinking ahead and get an early start on the research for or even the writing of future assignments.
Divide and Conquer. This is the “how do you eat an elephant?…” tip. Depending how much time you have to complete your paper (and the more the better; see tip #1), you can divide the assignment into goals and sub-goals that you portion out to each day before the assignment is due. Here is just one example of how you could divide and conquer a writing assignment. Let’s say I have a research paper that will be due in three weeks. Planning ahead, I might divide the assignment into 3 goals and 15 sub-goals (5 per week).
- Week 1 – Research (let’s say I’m required to have 5 academic articles in my bibliography)
- Monday – Find at least 8 articles (skim over them or read the abstract to make sure they are relevant to the topic)
- Tuesday – Read 4 out of 8 articles, underlining and highlighting the parts that pertain to paper
- Wednesday – Read next 4 out of 8 articles, underlining and highlighting….
- Thursday – Organize the research into main points
- Friday – Compose thesis
- Week 2 – Write
- Monday – Outline
- Tuesday – Compose body of article (main points – try to have 2 to no more than 5)
- Wednesday – Compose introduction (attention-getter and thesis)
- Thursday – Compose conclusion (summary of main points and clincher)
- Friday – Refine and harmonize (make sure the paper has good flow and transitions)
- Week 3 – Review/Edit
- Monday – Edit, looking for content improvements
- Tuesday – Edit, looking for grammatical/technical improvements
- Wednesday – Send to College Writing Center (which I highly recommend)
- Thursday – Read through aloud
- Friday – Revise based on Writing Center review and submit
10-page papers can be extremely intimidating (kind of like eating elephant for dinner). Intimidation leads to procrastination. However, when you give yourself one little part of the project per day, it makes the complete assignment much less daunting (…one bite at a time).
Prep Your Document! This is one I recently learned. I used to save the APA* formatting for last. You know, I’d write the paper and then make sure I had all the proper APA* design just before submitting. I now begin with a fully designed document (it helps if you save a template that you can reuse). Along those same lines, I also include all the assignment instructions right in my unwritten but prepped document. At Liberty University Online, practically half the grade for assignments is for following instructions. I can’t tell you how many times I carefully went over the instructions (which are found in a remote file on the academic site), and then went to write my paper… and totally forgot some of the details of the instructions. I now copy and paste the instructions into my already-APA-formatted Word document. In other words, if my professor requires certain specific headings for the paper, I write them out (in proper formatting and style). I include a note at the top of the page with a word count minimum/maximum. On my prepped bibliography page, I make a note of how many sources are required, and so on. Then, when I am ready to actually write my paper, I have a template that is all laid out and ready for me, with all the detailed assignment instructions in plain view. No more time wasted searching for the teacher’s notes on what is required for the paper!
*Note: Make sure you use the formatting style required by your professor/school/class.
Cite Your Sites! How many times have you written an article, including lots of good quotes and summaries from your extensive research. Ah, what a good feeling to finish the paper! You’re just about ready to submit it when you remember that you’re supposed to include a bibliography…. Uh, oh…. You forgot to record where you found each article! Now you have to go back and try to re-search for each one! And that one article you stumbled on by chance when you were looking for another one…. how in the world are you going to locate it again!
There’s a way to avoid this issue (and I’m speaking from experience here). As soon as you find an article you want to use for your paper, download it (either as a PDF, or, if that option’s not available, copy and paste it into a word document)–or print it out, but that’s a waste of paper, especially if it’s long–and immediately write a complete, properly formatted citation for it. I recommend recording the citation directly on the document. However, you can also record the citation right on a first draft of your paper. Then, when you go to actually write your paper, you’ll have your bibliography already complete! Just make sure you go over it once before you submit the assignment, to make sure you don’t include any sources you ended up not using in your paper (which is why I now prefer to record the citation directly on each article).
Don’t Let Inspiration Go to Waste! I highly recommend keeping an inspiration notebook–for academic papers as well as any creative writing you might do. If you’re like me, this can be on the notebook app on your phone, but if you’re “old fashioned” you can always carry a little notebook around with you. The point is to have some device for recording your spur-of-the-moment writing idea with you at all times. Even the best writers experience writer’s block, and if you’re just sitting in front of a blank screen and can’t think of anything to type, don’t keep sitting there! Get up and do something productive.
But… keep your inspiration note-book (or notes app) handy! You will be washing the dishes or in the grocery store or laying in bed at 11:00 trying to sleep, when suddenly the inspiration will come streaming in. You won’t believe some of the incredible wording and phenomenal content ideas that will come to you in these sorts of circumstances! It happens to everyone. It’s just that most people say, “Oh, wow, I’m going to have to remember that!” and then they never do. Believe me, you will never remember the exact wording that you loved so much when it first came to you. You will sit down at your desk to write 4 or 24 hours later and your mind will draw a blank. You’ll remember a vague concept of your original inspiration, but then you’ll have to try to restructure it, and it won’t sound nearly as good.
By simply keeping a notebook handy at all times (in your purse/pocket or on your phone), you will be able to immediately record the well-worded statements that pop into your head, ready and waiting for use when you next need them.
Write What Interests You! If you aren’t thrilled and passionate about it, what’s the point of choosing “zoning laws” as the next topic for your paper? Unless your instructor directly assigns you a specific topic, make sure you only write about what you are already passionate about or at least a little intrigued by. As I said about one of my recent assignments, “Better to review a 24-page article that is already exciting to me, than to review an 5- to 8-page article that is boring and uninteresting!!” It’s always easier to get motivated about a project that already inspires you!
Read to Write. If you want to write academic work, you need to read academic work. If all you ever read is comic books, sloppy text messages from friends (“hey wanna cum ovr 2nite”) or poorly written Facebook posts (“Why dose everybodys always using such bad grammer”), or soppy novels, don’t expect to write good academic papers. Read articles on topics that are interesting to you, but make sure they are from reputable sources and are academically written. One of the best books you can read for mind enrichment and growth is the Word of God. Just find a modern English translation (I like New King James Version and New Living Translation). Just like children can improve their spelling through the habitual reading of properly spelled words, so also you can improve your academic writing through the habitual reading of articles and books with high content standards.
Pray. Writing is a talent–a gift. We know that every good gift comes from God (Jam. 1:17), and that He has entrusted to everyone some talent(s) (Matt. 25:14-30). Inspiration also comes from God. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide your pen (keyboard) as you write, to give you divine inspiration, and to help you know how to develop and improve the talents you have been given. Then purpose to write only that which will bring glory and honor to His name, and you can be sure that He will bless and aid your writing efforts.
This few tips have made writing academic papers so much more enjoyable for me! I hope they are just as helpful to you!
Now it’s your turn: What is one writing tip that has “saved the day” (or school year) for you?