Writing great papers in graduate school can be a challenging and frustrating endeavor. Knowing a few tricks and following these steps can make things a little easier.
Steps to Writing Great Papers in Graduate School:
Step #1: Comprehend the assignment
Read through project instructions and guidelines closely. Ask questions, define terms, and consider the intent and scope of the project. Make sure you fully understand the assignment before moving forward.
Step #2: Collect the information
Find as many sources primary and secondary as possible. If the project calls for the use of a specific number of resources, plan your collecting accordingly.
Step #3: Conduct thorough research
Reading and studying material is a mental and physical activity. It requires thought, consideration, reflection, and physical participation such as taking notes, looking up difficult words, paraphrasing challenging sentences, or free-writing.
Conduct your research at a desk or table; have a pencil, a highlighter, bookmarkers, and a notebook on hand. Take note of important details, data, and other pieces of information and highlight intriguing and important passages. When you encounter complex information book-mark pages you want to re-read and tag challenging passages. Work with challenging information by paraphrasing and free-writing.
Now, most of your research will be performed online, which may have its own set of challenges and concerns. This includes finding reputable websites, verifying sources, and bookmarking pages. Sometimes, staying organized in while writing great papers shares many of the same strategies of staying organized in graduate school.
Reading and studying is about more than identifying words and meanings—it’s about comprehending information, understanding the author’s ideas, and identifying your own interpretations. Once you’ve actively read and studied your materials, review your notes, identify which ideas and insights seem most important, and begin to brainstorm ideas.
Step #4: Identify the central argument
Conduct analysis, identify key information, draw pictures, free-write, discuss your project with others, define unfamiliar sentences, and passages, and do whatever you can to better understand your materials and what you want to say about them. Once you have an idea of what you want to say about your materials, use heuristics, techniques for active learning, to explore and map out specific ideas.
Step #5: Write an outline
Identify some of your central ideas and begin to organize them on a piece of paper. Use this step to consider ways to best organize your information and ideas. Keep your initial outline short and simple—use it to simply capture your main ideas and map a potential structure for them.
Step #6: Create several drafts
Leave plenty of time to write multiple drafts of your paper. Let your first draft be sloppy and free. Use your subsequent drafts to better organize and deliver your information.
Good to know:
Plan on writing at least three drafts of your paper before drafting a final one.
Step #7: Thoroughly edit your paper
Check for misspellings, incorrect word usage, faulty grammar, vague or unclear sentences, passages, or sections, and general structure and appearance. Leave plenty of time for this step—a poorly edited paper is an incomplete paper.
This also allows you enough time to make sure that you have avoided plagiriasm.
Ease the Stress of Writing Academic Papers
Writing great papers in graduate school means choosing the field that interests you or may help you career. Once in school, begin your academic papers well in advance of their submission date to help ensure you have time to fully engage in the writing process and create your highest quality work.
Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado
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