Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to: Write a Paper

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Now I know the title of this post sounds a bit pretentious because I am, in fact, not the world's paper writing expert, but I have written many papers and have had had excellent teachers teach me a pretty good method. So in the spirit of giving, I thought I'd share it with you! And I also just wrote multiple papers for this semester's classes, so there's that. 
First off, whether it's a book report, a research paper, or you name it, it's probably going to start with research. Even if it just requires you to state your opinion on an issue, you'll need to do research to decide what you think and back it up with credible facts. I use my school's library database a lot, but I've found that Google scholar is very helpful. It can be found on the Google homepage under the drop down menu (the same place where you'd find Google maps or Google shopping). I cannot explain how much it annoys me when I Google something like "Social Policy Articles" and I get a million things about social media and work policies. Google Scholar only gives you results that are from scholarly papers so you don't need to worry about it being a credible source or getting a million hits on something you don't want. 
Once I have found a few good papers and articles on my topic, I print them out and highlight the most relevant information. Most times, the paper will be on a broad topic so it's important to pick out what is relevant to your paper and mark it so you can reference it or quote it later. 
When all my research is printed out, it can be a bit much. Especially if I'm are addressing multiple topics or characters/themes in one paper. I have found that a good way to keep everything organized and easy to navigate is by putting my research into folders labeled with the question the research inside is aimed at answering. This helps in two ways: one, if the article doesn't address the question on the envelope, it doesn't go in there, and two, if your teacher makes you turn in your research like mine did, it is already organized with the topic and ready to go!

After I've done my research, I like to go through my textbook or my novel (depending on what I'm writing of course) and find quotes and information that is relevant to my topic. This way, I have another credible source, but also, when you're writing a character or theme analysis you generally need textual evidence. 
 After I have researched my topic and found information to back up my position or prove a certain point, I start by writing an outline. For me it just helps me to picture what the end result will look like and get a feel for what needs to go where. I like to break it up by paragraphs or pages and then work on a paragraph or section each day. That way, I'm not waiting until the last minute and my mind is fresh when I'm writing, instead of being totally drained at 2am the day before it's due. 

Once I've gotten my rough draft down on paper, I send it around to a few of my friends who are good writers, especially my mom. They can mark what should be changed or moved and give me notes before I get too far in. I usually like to write my intro and conclusion when I know the middle or "meat" of the paper is done because then it ties the whole thing together. If I write the intro first and then decide to different piece of research or something, it no longer makes sense and I have to rewrite it. 

Once the paper is done and has been checked and re-checked, it's time to cite your sources. Yuck. I am terrible at remembering what needs to go where and what kind of citations I need to use. Easybib.com is a life saver! It can look up books and websites for you and all you need to do is fill in information it doesn't already have. It even has multiple types of citation styles like MLA, APA, and Chicago (whatever that is). It makes it super easy to cite all your sources and make sure that all the information you need is there!

After my paper is done along with intro, conclusion, and cited sources, I print multiple copies and email it to myself! I always print at least three times because I can't tell you how many times the first one had the margins off or I forgot to add my title and then the second got spilled on or crumpled before class. Maybe that's a bit over cautious, but that's my life! I always email it to myself too, because you never know if you will forget it or need to make a last minute adjustment before you turn it in. This way, you will always have it with you, just in case!
Did this give you any ideas or help with paper writing confusion? Do you have a method you always use?
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P.S.- For more specific advice on how to write in general, click here.
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