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There are many excellent text books and web
sites on writing. They can provide you with information and ideas
on how to conduct research and on the process of writing (and editing)
One of the most important and overlooked aspects of the writing process
is the need to PLAN AHEAD. For many students, writing a paper means
staying up the night before the paper is due to write the FIRST DRAFT
of their paper. By doing this, they deprive themselves of the opportunity
to think and write clearly. They make simple, yet costly spelling and
grammar mistakes that they would have easily caught had they planned more
efficiently. (We won't get into last minute problems with floppy disks
not functioning, printers jamming, or unsaved files being lost during
a power surge.)
More importantly, when you treat a paper as a last minute project, you
lose the opportunity to learn something of personal value. The
point of writing a paper is to explore a topic of interest that you might
not otherwise cover in class or to provide the additional detail you need
to meet your career or educational goals. For this to happen, you must
first choose a topic that really interests you. Your motivation
to learn will add a great deal to the quality of your paper and to your
enjoyment in writing it.
You can avoid problems and optimize your learning (and grade) with some
effective time management in planning the research and writing process.
The following are some suggestions:
- At the start of each semester, get out a calendar and plan
out your semester. Look at the syllabus for each class. When
are your papers due? When are quizzes and tests planned? Notice when
you have more than one assignment due or test to take. How will you
manage your time to avoid last-minute log jams?
- As soon as the assignment is given, read through the list of topics
(if provided) or consider what you want to learn more about that is
not covered (sufficiently) by the course. Think about what you might
need to know for your future career or further education.
- During the next week, do some reading on a few of the topics that
interest you. This should help you to decide which is of most interest
(or the "lesser of evils"). Search the library catalogs
for books, magazine articles and other references available on these
topics. This will give you a "big picture" on these topics
and help you to identify resources that you will be able to use.
- One week after the assignment is given, choose your topic.
- In the next week or two, do some preliminary reading on your
topic. Explore the different ways you can approach your topic and what
kinds of sources you might want to include in your research. Jot down
or start mapping ideas for "big picture" possibilities for
- Take a week to outline or make a map
of the paper. This will serve as a guide to the kinds of materials to
look for when you start your research.
- Start conducting your research. You'll need to set aside large
chunks of time in the library for hunting down the information and for
making copies of articles or other materials. It's important to start
this process as early as possible, because you may have to borrow materials
from other college libraries, which may take some time. (That's assuming
that they will be available when you want them!) Give yourself a deadline
for conducting your research so that you will have time for steps 8-11.
- Give yourself a week or two to compile your notes and write a detailed
outline of your paper. The more time you put into organizing your
paper, the better it will flow when you sit down to write. This process
will help you to see gaps in your logic and information. You'll have
plenty of time to do additional research if necessary.
- Give yourself a week or two to write the rough draft. You want
to let it flow out of your personal interest and the information you've
collected from your research.
- Allow at least a week to edit your rough draft. This way you'll
have the time to put it down when you get overwhelmed with the details
and then take it up again with a fresh perspective.
- Give yourself a week to write your final draft. You'll want
to take the time to read it carefully for last minute edits and to make
sure you've done your very best work.
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