Write That Paper in Half the Time with These Pro Tips

This article covers some tips for writing college papers more efficiently. If you're worried about taking too long to write your next research paper, then you might find this information very helpful.

paper writing tips

Writing Papers More Efficiently

One of the most dreaded assignments in college is a research paper. Not only does it require researching all of your own sources, but it takes a lot of time. With parties, school events and (gasp!) studying to be done, how can you make the most of your time and effectively write a research paper? With the following steps, you should be able to use your time efficiently and produce a thorough piece of work that you can be proud to turn in.

Step 1: Analyze the Assignment

Your professor has uttered the horrifying words: you need to write a research paper. Typically, a teacher will hand out an assignment sheet giving the specifics, but there are times that it will be explained during class and you need to gather that information yourself. First, find out how long it must be, and second, analyze what the assignment should be about. If your professor asks you to write a paper on Shakespeare, you'd write one on him. If your professor asks you to write a paper on 16th century literary figures, you'll have a margin to decide your own focus. This is also the time to ask any questions you may have if you don't understand something.

Step 2: Find Your Topic

You may get wildly overwhelmed when beginning your research and there is a reason for that - research can be time-consuming and even an assignment as specific as 'Shakespeare' can lead to multiple possible topics. This is why, to save time, you should decide on an area, early in your research. What about this topic do you want to know? Once you've found your topic, don't stray from that research.

For the sake of this article we'll look at a famous historical figure: Cleopatra. Once you have your research topic, you'll need to stick to it. Later on, you may be swayed to pick a different topic if you believe there is more information or it's more interesting. This will only waste your time because you'll need to do all these steps over. Say you decide to write a paper on the ancestry of Cleopatra. No matter how interesting her love life was and no matter how many sources mention it - don't switch topics when you've already done research.

Step 3: Narrow Your Topic

A problem that many students find during the research process is that they have too broad of a topic. Narrowing your subject will also eventually lead you to find your thesis. Besides focusing your topic, you'll also be able to find key phrases to plug in search engines and to look for in indexes. This will greatly help your research because you won't be plugging in bad searches.

So while Cleopatra's ancestry is an excellent subject and may seem narrow, it can be focused even further. Instead of her ancestry (which goes back to Macedon) we could suggest that the thesis become: incest in the Egyptian royal family as seen during the time of Cleopatra.

It can also be useful to ask yourself questions so that you can scale down your topic. There are three major questions to be asked:

  1. What is the topic I've chosen?
  2. Why? What do I want to find out?
  3. Why do I want my reader to know about it?

You then explain all this to yourself. For example, I am studying incest in Cleopatra's family because I want to know why she married her brothers. I want my reader to understand that although she was Greek, her family remained true to some of the ancient Pharaonic practices. Now we have a strong thesis.

Step 4: Determine Your Audience

Just as important as your topic is the audience that you'll be directing your paper to. Believe it or not, writing research papers is similar to writing oral presentations. If you write to the wrong audience, or never specify your audience, your work will be choppy and undefined. First ask yourself, what is your role as the writer? Why is your report important and who will it serve? Who will read the report (do they know a lot about this topic already or very little)? And what is the purpose of this paper (to inform, to entertain or to contradict preconceived ideas)?

Step 5: Plan It Out

While this may seem to take time, it will save you time in the end. Creating an outline focuses your writing and your paper. Instead of having ideas spread throughout the paper, you'll know where each piece of research should be presented and can focus your edits on polishing instead of re-organizing. This rough draft may take an hour or more to write out, but thinking ahead can cut your writing time in half.

Think of an outline like a time management schedule - you get more done because you have your day planned out for you. With an outline, you'll stay on track because it is already listed for you. There will be no sudden need for more research or rifling through your notes - it'll all be planned out for you.

These time-saving tips are only the beginning stages to writing your research paper, but the writing can't be rushed. See why you should stop waiting until the last minute to write your paper.

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