I should probably preface this by saying that I mostly write papers for English and History courses, although I think these tips can be applied all the disciplines.
Create the Perfect Environment to Write Something Awesome
The hardest part of writing a paper is actually getting yourself to write it. For me this means getting rid of all distractions.
- Using ear plugs! You can't forget about the audio distractions, especially if you're working in a public place.
- Using the StayFocusd chrome extension. This is a free application that you can add to your Chrome browser that allows you to control internet usage. I use it to block all my "problem" sites for an hour at a time. After an hour of work, I let myself pursue social media. This was revolutionary to my paper-writing process and I highly recommend it.
- Sit at a desk or table. It makes you feel way more productive then sitting somewhere where you usually watch Netflix. Better yet, change your environment completely. I find that I always feel guilty watching Youtube when I'm writing in the library, so I always do better work there.
Be a Research Wizard
If finding secondary sources is part of writing your paper, then you have to get good a researching and taking in a lot of information quickly.
- Use Control+F to search digital documents for keywords. You don't need to read that twenty page article that vaguely relates to your topic. You just need to find the parts that specifically address your thesis.
- Use the Index in books to search for keywords. Paper books have their own sort of "Control+F" function that can be found using the indexes. Scanning the index will also help you decide if the book will be helpful to the paper you're writing.
- Copy or transcribe all relevant quotes into one Word document. Anytime you find a piece of text that specifically addresses your topic paste it into a document, include the link or page number of where you found it and a few bullet points about how you want to use the information. This saves you from clicking a hundred links trying to find citation information later and let's you see everything you have in one place.
- Look for a PDF version of the novel you're writing about online. I'm terrible at taking notes as I read a novel, so I like to use the previously mention Control+F method to navigate a novel. For example, if I'm writing a character analysis, I search for the character's name and look at every scene they're in to see what I might like to write about. Once you realize what chapter it's in, you can find it in your paper copy for citation purposes.
- Never write your own citations. Honestly, this is just a waste of time. I prefer to use Citation Machine where you plug in all your information and choose your format, then just copy and paste it. Then if I have any citations that are a bit unique (like a reprinted book), I adjust based on what Owl Purdue tells me.
Take Control of Your Word Processor
The final part of writing is getting it into that Word document (or other word processor of your choice). These are a few tips to make your processing experience easier.
- Use the underline function to mark quotes. If your professor or teacher tells you not to count quotes in your final words count, this makes it much easier to find and track the quotes that need to be subtracted.
- Colour or bold text that you know you'll want to revise. Often times I write a really terrible opening sentence to a paragraph because I just need something to get start with. I like to use some sort of marking to remind myself to change this during revision. I also use this technique when I need to find a citation or add an accent to a letter or something similar. By marking out things that need attention as you go, it not only makes you feel productive, but it ensures that you won't forget about it once you have five or ten pages of work done.
- Use the Control+F function to search for ' and colloquial words in your paper. I'm terrible for using contractions, which are a no-no in a formal paper, so searching for all the apostrophes in the document help me catch them. I also like to search for slang or colloquial words that I know I'm likely to use, such as "like" or "awesome". Another thing that you can check for is that all of your proper nouns (the ones that spell-checker doesn't like) are spelled right.
- Format your paper last. This might be a complete preference, but I find it's so much easier to write a paper in single space without a title page or fancy headings to get in your way. I also like to add the tab indents to the beginning of my paragraphs as I'm doing my last reread to signal to myself that a paragraph is good to go.
And that's how I get
an A on every paper I ever hand in through the essay writing season. Do you have any tips to writing a great essay? Did you know these tricks already? Any of them particularly helpful? Particularly unhelpful? Are you surviving school? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Reading: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Listening: Johnny Cash
Listening: Johnny Cash