Researching for a term paper
So, are you ready to ace this paper of yours? Get out some paper and a pencil and let's get started!
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The answer to this question is easy: look at the materials the prof gives you. The first important step in writing a paper is taking some time to understand what the professor is looking for. If you know that, you can write to the rubric and pick up easy points along the way. Universities mandate that professors given students rubrics or some form of assessment guideline.
When you ask, be courteous. This means you can begin with the end in mind, crafting the paper around what you know the prof wants to see. To begin with the end in mind, you need to follow three simple steps:. Take a few moments to review the assignment and rubric with a pen and highlighter, making notes and underlining key elements the prof wants to see.
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Make a list of three strengths and weaknesses you have as a writer. Be mindful of the pitfalls and confident about your high points. All this should take you no more than 10 or 15 minutes. It may seem counter-intuitive, but using time to get organized saves you time later, and makes the writing process so much simpler. So, here it is, step-by-step:. Say you have to write a paper for your Linguistics class. Take a look at this assignment from an actual college professor:.
Go through and find the concepts the prof wants you to cover in the paper. This prof is doing what profs do: pontificating. Take note, these macro concepts are often suggestions, not commands. They are the prof telling you how to be impressive, clear, or to raise your grade through a demonstration of your wits and knowledge.
This is your prof letting you know that. Second, go micro. Go through and underline actionable items. These are the items that must be included in the paper for you to get a good grade. Usually they are very specific:. Clearly, if your paper uses first-person pronouns, it will irk the person giving you the grade—probably best to stay away from that.
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Also, you should be using scholarly research, which means no random Googling and picking the first things you ping. Take a look at the first section of the assignment sheet. See where the prof tells you exactly what your paper should be? This paper better be formatted in a particular way! Why would a prof do this? Well, the answer is simple. Imagine you have 75 papers to grade written by your 75 students. Imagine just how much variation and diversity would occur between those 75 people and their papers if the prof left it all to chance—all of these students like different fonts, would cite things differently based on their preferences, and would hand in widely varied papers, at least doubling the time it would take to read those papers.
Make that prof love you by following these directions. If you follow the directions, this prof will direct their ire elsewhere. The rubric is a list of direct touch points that will be examined by the professor as they grade your work. In this case, you can see five discrete categories, each with its own stakes, and the number value that corresponds to your performance:. The prof will take the rubric and keep it within reach while grading.
Along with making notes on your paper, the prof will also check off your performance in each category—summarizing your performance in that category:. If you have a hundred-point paper, each one of these categories is worth 20 points. To get an A on this paper, you have to perform with excellence in 3 categories and above average in at least 2 of the other categories. At least one of them—formatting—is a gimmie. All it takes is attention to detail—Microsoft Word has all the tools you need to score perfectly there.
Focus on Development and Body Paragraphs for your other two. It might seem like a silly thing to do, but an anchor sentence is as vital as a thesis statement.
Writing a Research Paper
Note that there is nothing about originality in this rubric. In this paper, I will demonstrate my understanding of a linguistic concept I learned this semester and how it relates to my field of study. I will demonstrate this knowledge by staying organized, using relevant research, and sticking to my thesis statement. Yes, it seems a bit silly. But now you have an anchor. Now all you need to know is where it could all fall off the rails. In this step, you name your strengths and weakness so you know exactly where you stand walking in.
Simple as that. Now all you need to do is play to those strengths and be cognizant of the weaknesses. Completing this second step immediately—before you go to bed on the day you get the assignment—is essential to acing this paper. Set the plan and execute, execute, execute—this is the only way to achieve the results you want.
If your time is nebulous, you will be more likely to drop the ball. Keep in mind that one of the crucial ingredients of successful writing is time. You need time to think, research, and create. If you fail to acknowledge this, you will write a crumby paper every time. Resist the impulse to think of the paper as a hurdle. Make an appointment with the writing center to get a semi-professional set of eyes, and had that paper to a friend for quick notes. Your next step is to organize your time.
Most of your sessions should be no more than an hour or two, but some activities—like research—might need to be a bit longer:.
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If you notice, most of your writing time will be spent on the front end—creating the first draft of the paper. This is because everything after that will be revisionary. If you stick to this schedule, you will not only complete your paper on time, you will complete it well. Every writer on the planet will tell you that the schedule is the foundation of good writing—the more time you spend in the chair, the better the writing gets.
Free writing is often popular, but it can be really time consuming, and also not particularly helpful for research papers. As well, some profs advise talking it out with a friend, which can be distracting. The best method for this is mapping. Mapping is a technique that allows you to freely record your ideas in a logical manner. Mapping will give you strong guiding questions as well as demonstrate how your ideas are connected, which is super useful for writing a long research paper.
Mapping looks something like this:. Note that the ideas get more specific the further away they are from the center topic.