You’ve done all the research, struggled through challenging texts, taken extensive notes, and spent time mulling over other peoples’ ideas and your response to those ideas. Now you’re ready to write.
Here’s how some students have problems:
1) The paper places all of its ideas into rough categories or disorganized blocks/clumps of information drawn from the sources. But there seems to be no clear reason why the information is presented in this fashion: the paper reads much like a list of everything the student encountered as they did their research.
2) The paper has some original ideas, but they are buried so deep that only the most careful reader can see them. (This problem is so sad.)
3) The paper has unresolved issues (such as opposing viewpoints) that never get resolved.
4) The paper overlooks a major problem or flaw in the author’s argument, thinking the reader will never see the obvious! (But they always do!)
5) The paper is so poorly edited and has so many proofreading errors that no one (not even the instructor) wants to spend time trying to decipher the ideas.
Here’s how to avoid these common problems:
Tip #1: Reread the assignment. What does the instructor want you to do? What type of intellectual activity do you need to demonstrate in the assignment? Don’t take another step until you’re sure you know what you need to do.
Tip #2: We keep saying the same thing: spend time thinking about what you need to demonstrate in the assignment and how you will go about doing so. Were you asked to synthesize the ideas of several people? Then figure out your synthesis (what do those ideas add up to? what do you make of them?).
Tip #3: Once you know you’ve solved the puzzle, work backwards from the solution, showing how you figured it out (maybe listing the smaller chunk of information?), then organize everything so you show the solution, as it’s the big picture. Be exceptionally careful about listing chunks of information: you don’t want your assignment to read like a tourist guide’s description of all the major tourist spots going by outside a bus window.
Tip #4: Reread the assignment aloud v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Does it have any unresolved issues? Ideas mentioned but never discussed fully? Counter-arguments that never get addressed satisfactorily? Facts or ideas that seemed interesting at the time but don’t fit now? Don’t just delete most of this stuff, as some of it could be really interesting. Instead, think about how to modify/change/include and then revise.
Tip #5: Once you like the draft’s organization, see if any ideas need more development (definition, description, discussion, explanation, elaboration?). You’re probably writing for a specific audience (ask your instructor about your audience), so put yourself in their shoes and think about what they might need to fully understand your ideas.
Tip #6: Once the draft’s major revisions (purpose, focus, organization, development) have been completed, turn your attention to editing: clean up all that small clutter that distracts your reader from your great ideas! If your instructor wants you to work on how you sound as a writer (your voice) or your style, work on these editing tasks as well.
Tip #7: Think the draft is cleaned up? Now is the time to sit back and read the draft aloud (slowly!) sentence by sentence, starting with the very last sentence in the draft. Fix any grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and citation problems, then read the second-to-the-last sentence aloud and fix its problems. Repeat sequence until you get to the very first sentence in the draft. Once you’ve read the draft from back to front and fixed everything, read it aloud from start to finish. By now, it should read beautifully!
Tip #8: Reread the assignment again. Does the instructor want a bibliography, reference, or works cited page? Remember to prepare one, otherwise your citation efforts are meaningless! Then make sure the assignment is formatted and printed according to your instructor’s specifications
Tip #9: Think you’re finished? Not yet! Research is hard work. Turn in the assignment and then reward yourself for a job well done!