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Writing A College Paper
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How To Write a College Paper

March 14, 2018

Everyone will have to write an essay or research paper at some point in their college career.


Writing a paper can be a bit of a process for college students. Knowing what those steps are will help you to have a more organized paper.


Finding a topic.  

The first step of writing your paper will be to find a topic to write on. Spend some time brainstorming and create a large list of topics that you could write on. Make sure that you are interested in these topics; it’s hard to write a whole paper about something that you don’t care about it. Tying your personal interests into your classwork will also help you to enjoy doing your work more. Perhaps there was something your professor mentioned briefly in a lecture that caught your attention and you’d like to learn more about it. If you are struggling to find a topic, talk to your professor. Most of them are willing to talk through the assignment with you until you find something worth writing about. Even if they provide a list of topics they want you to write on, many professors are flexible, and if you share with them a specific topic you want to write about they are usually willing to work with you.



After you find what you want to write about, it’s time to start researching. It’s a good idea to even do some quick Google searches when you’re still deciding on a topic, just so you know there is enough research to support your idea. Sometimes students realize that their idea is flawed or there isn’t enough research and have to find a new topic. Once you are sure of your topic, you can start diving deeper into research. Consult your campus library, online databases, books, studies, and always ask your librarian to assist you. (They went to school to be good researchers, and it’s their job to help you!) The research stage of writing a paper will help you establish what your thesis will be for your paper. What argument are you making or what point are you proving? While you read, take notes on points that could be used in your paper, or how a source helps support your thesis. As you collect research, remember that they have to be scholarly sources!



This step will look a little bit different for every student based on you learning style or how you like to study. Before you begin to actually write, take some time to organize and plan what your paper will look like. Organize the research you have collected into categories or points. Create a rough outline for your paper. Some students prefer to write this down on paper and others would rather do it digitally. Have a good idea of what will be the main sections of your paper. Do you need a paragraph just to present your evidence? Does your topic divide itself naturally into two or three big ideas? Whatever is the best way for you to accomplish this step, make sure that you don’t skip it. Taking the time to plan your paper allows you to become familiar with your topic in your head before you sit down to write.



It’s time to write! So gather all your snacks, find your favorite desk in the library and write out your rough draft. Remember that the first one is all about getting your words on the paper, and you will have time to go back and correct and edit as needed, so don’t worry about it being perfect at first. After you get this initial draft written, it might be a good idea to let it sit for a while. Walk away from it and clear your mind of the topic for a bit. This is helpful because when you return to the paper, you will be looking at it with fresh eyes. After maybe a day or two, write a second draft. Tighten up your wording, add all of your quotes and sources into the correct places, and make sure that everything supports your thesis statement. Something that I made a habit of in college was to write my introduction and conclusion last. The main body of your paper will be all your main points, while your intro and conclusion are more of supporting paragraphs. Once I was able to look at those main points, it was easier for me to go back and write my introductory paragraph because I had a better idea of what exactly needed to be said. My conclusion was much stronger, as well, because I was able to look at my introduction then and re-state my thesis.



Now that you’ve gotten most of your writing done, you can begin editing and proofreading. It’s important to remember that these are two different steps. Editing can include substituting words, changing the structure or order of your paragraphs, adding or replacing sentences, etc. It’s helpful for many students to read their paper out loud to themselves when editing to listen for any awkward phrasing or wording that needs changed. Proofreading will be your very last step in writing your paper, and it is simply reading through your paper (several times) while looking for simple grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes. At this point you’ve read through your writing a dozen or more times, so you could ask a fellow student or your roommate to proofread your paper just to get a fresh set of eyes on your work and catch anything you might have missed.


Writing a paper for a college class can be intimidating, but eventually you find a rhythm and style for your writing. And remember that your best work will take some time, so don’t procrastinate!  


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