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A Little Workshop on Paper Writing

Since it’s week 8, and everyone I know has paper(s) due this week and next, I thought I’d devote this post to a little workshop on paper writing in college. Some professors lead you by the hand more than others. In my American Lit class right now, we’ve had to turn in an annotated bibliography and a report on our historical sources, and we have a rough draft due next Friday with the final draft due Monday of finals week. In fall term Foundations last year, we were given our assignment and basically told to write the paper; we had one workshop with our peers and that was it. Personally, I don’t like having a set schedule to work around; workshops are helpful and I love them, but I don’t really see the point of annotated bibliographies, other than the fact that your professor gets to make sure that you’ve done your research before a certain date. But anyway, here are my bits of advice for successful paper writing:

1) Do all the sub-assignments that are part of your final paper grade. a) You don’t want to lose points just because you didn’t feel like writing five sentences about a source and b) they can help you understand your sources and sort through your ideas a little better.

2) It’s always better to end up with too much research than too little. It’s much, much easier to cut stuff out of a paper than it is to add stuff in. Trust me, I’ve been in both situations. When you’re at page 4 of 5 and running out of things to say, you have a miniature freakout. And then you start adding fluff. Which is never good. But when you have too much research, you might end up not using every source you found. Writers, take heart and listen well… It’s all right to not use every source you found (unless your professor has set a minimum number of sources you must use). The authors won’t be offended, I promise.

3) Just start writing. Once you hav your research, there’s so much planning you can do. You can keep planning and planning and thinking and thinking about what exactly you want to say and where you want to say it, but at some point you just have to start writing. I was having that problem last night, because I still wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to go with my American Lit paper. I started writing, and before I knew it, I found myself with two pages (out of ten) written, and all the pieces in place in my head.

4) Page-limits … to keep track while writing or not? This is a very personal choice, and I know people feel strongly about this. So I’m going to present both sides of the issue. Sometimes, a page-limit weighs so heavily on you that you’ll do anything to avoid it. You’ll single-space your paper while writing, and double-space only after you’re done. You’ll just avoid looking at the tiny nubers at the bottom of the screen until you absolutely–cannot–resist … oh, three whole pages left to go *sigh.* If seeing that you’ve only written two pages out of the required five puts you under pressure and discourages you, then please use one of the strategies above. I, on the other hand, like to write my paper exactly as it would be formatted in its final avatar. It helps me pace myself and make sure I’m not devoting too much time to one sub-topic. Or, if I’m running out of things to say on page four of the required five, I know I need to do more research or go back and expand something. Make your choice wisely, and make it well!

My goodness, this turned into a very long post! I guess I’m still in a paper-writing mood from last night. However, I have eight pages left to go, so I’d better get back to work… Until next week!

One Response to “A Little Workshop on Paper Writing”

  1. Thanks for the advice! Definitely will be useful these last couple of weeks!

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