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This is hands down, proven and tested, the best method you’ll ever find and need, and it’s all here laid out for you to use.
These aren’t suggestions, tips or recommendations either: these are the necessary steps and processes you must go through to write ‘A’ papers consistently, no matter who you are or what you skill level may be, it’s never too early or late to start using this method and seeing results. You will start benefiting from it right away. Let’s go!
1. Brainstorm and Write Your Thesis, Build it Around a Claim, Premise or Idea
There’s a crucial distinction to make and maintain in your mind: it’s not a thesis, it’s your thesis. It’s yours and only yours, so the direction you take it in is your decision. Sometimes it’s natural to others and sometimes not, either way, it starts with you. You need to be creative in coming up with your thesis, not just run with something because a source told you to. You need to interpret your topic in your own way and be original.
With the reading of every paper comes the natural question, “What’s it all about anyway?”
That’s answered by your thesis, it’s your answer to that question, and you state it upfront in your introduction to your reader because it’s the only way it makes sense, to let them know right away to keep on reading.
Without one you’re just vague, ambiguous and nothing special. No one would have a reason to read your paper because there’s no promise of learning something. With it, your specific and exacting with your thesis and statement, you’re enticing to read and spark their interest and keep their attention. Staying in the active voice and sentence construction also helps achieve this effect.
So how do you find your thesis and go about putting it down on paper? Passion and interest. Yes, passion, and not the romantic kind but what naturally piques your interest. This isn’t the only way, but it’s the best way.
If you just can’t find the most interesting thing or anything interesting at all, you might try doing the most applicable and easiest topic from a practical point of view. If picking a topic just because it’s easy appeals to you, I’d say go for it.
Anywhere where you can get your self-interest going, even if it means doing less of things you don’t like, like writing research papers, can be productive and motivates you further.
But ideally, and we don’t live in an ideal world, find something about the topic that interests you; a question, a statement, a claim to prove or disprove, that way it’ll be much easier for you to write something great because you’ll be involved and interested in the subject and you’ll have your heart in it. It’s always better to interlace passion with your thesis. Make it interesting and you’ll be motivated to work harder.
Here are 3 of the best ways to find interest in any topic you have to write about:
1) Connect it back to your personal interests; what you already think about and are interested in, what you care about. Connect it back to you and you’ll naturally be more inclined to write about it because it’s interesting to you.
2) Find a theme within your primary text and elaborate upon it. Don’t expound or summarize, but make a claim and use pieces of your text to back it up with brilliant quotes and analysis. This one is my personal favorite.
3) Use what you get from classroom discussion and group brainstorming. This one is natural, but some instructors are better at organizing group debate and peer reviews, and some a lot better. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the good ones, you’ll be able to mingle with your like-minded peers in a classroom setting.
These are specific methods and work in their own right, but you can also use a combination all three.
2. Outline Your Paper into Actionable Steps, so You’ll Always Know What You Have to do Next, and if You’re Doing the Right things
Yes, outlining. It’s that thing you always know you should do and do more of but never actually get around to it.
You skip it and jump right into the writing because you figure it’ll be faster that way. Writing writes the paper, not outlining, right? So if you start writing now, you’ll be done quicker. What is outlining anyway? It’s a waste of time and you’ll shorten the whole process and make it easier on yourself if you don’t do it. Right?
Wrong. Skipping outlining lengthens the writing process and assures you’ll write a worse paper than you would have if you had taken 10-30 minutes to brainstorm and write one out. So take the time to write down your thesis and figure how you’ll elaborate on it and prove your point.
It’s nuanced and difficult to define exactly how to write an outline with just a few, general, hard and fast rules. It’s also very personal and depends on the individual, varying greatly from person to person, but here goes nothing anyway. This is what you need to have at the very least:
1) Your strong thesis, really flesh it out and how to best state it, figure out how it work with and fits together with your evidence.
2) Supporting arguments – flesh them out a little bit, don’t write them out fully, but be specific enough so that you know exactly what you’re going to say; the point you’re trying to make (just one) with every supporting argument and piece of evidence.
3) How you tie it all together with your conclusion. Remember that your thesis determines the nature of your conclusion and the options if gives you to write it. Think about it beforehand, don’t make the mistake of thinking about your conclusion when you get to it in your writing.
3. Research Just What you Need, and not for Hours Everyday
Research is writing down precisely what sources meet the exact requirements to support your thesis, walking into the library, skimming and checking out just exactly what you need to do that, and nothing more.
It’s not aimless or passive browsing hoarded up with piles of books for hours on end.
There’s some confusion about when to do research, and I’ve put it after thesis and outlining. You may be wondering why.
That’s because your thesis doesn’t come after research for fear that research will influence and contaminate your ideas with others’ opinions that will steer your own. So you’ll want to do your own close reading of your text before you come up with a thesis, because a thesis is essentially you, your opinion and argument, and ideally draws from some kind of passion.
Even when this isn’t the case, it’s okay to change it later and you always can, but also always have one before you research, it grounds yon on what you want to do and exactly what you’re looking for, which is always a good thing in all writing and research, specificity
Now, outlining and research do kind of play off each other. You can do either one before the first, but I prefer outlining because it focuses your research to what you need; you go in knowing what you’re looking for.
Also understand that you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to titles, but content. The direction a source takes with respect to your paper, and whether it will be helpful or not, will be readily apparent to you.
Remember that to a great extent, there are no perfect sources, but there are better ones for supporting your thesis and fulfilling its conclusion. There are exceptions, but you shouldn’t wait for or count on them.
By and large, you’ll be sorting and parsing through sources quickly, skimming for quality and culling what is immediately useful to your thesis, and what ties things together like a theme or commonality between your arguments. You’re goal is to present your case and convince them of its validity with evidence, so quality evidence is the prime cornerstone in that goal.
Sources should be ranked in order of immediate and potential usefulness, from where you are now, as in 1, 2 and 3 in order of most useful to least useful. Even within your best sources, you’re probably only going to want to use sliver of its contents. Don’t be compelled to rely on just one resource and just use up the whole thing, you’ll be repetitive and it’ll make for a weaker argument.
4. Writing on Your Time
Now and only now do you begin writing, after your thesis, outline and most of your research. I say most of your research because depending on the complexity of the assignment, you’re most likely going to have to hit the books as you write and develop your ideas into reality while you’re writing.
Hitting bumps and snags while writing is good because it’s feedback as to how viable your ideas and your presentation of them really is, as well as peer review as we’ll be discussing at the end of this article.
But writing isn’t what you think it is and how you’ve probably been doing it.
Writing is thesis-based and centered around your thesis, much like outlining, but writing is still not outlining, they’re two different mindsets. Your entire paper should be focused on elaborating and proving your thesis statement to your reader, you’ve got to have a plan before you start writing, and that’s your outline. They’re inexorably linked and your writing will improve and be easier with a better outline.
Staying focused is a very simple concept and common piece of advice, so it’s surprising how even experienced writers, and sometimes especially experienced writers, veer off on tangents and write about a bunch of things that have absolutely nothing to do with their thesis whatsoever. I’m guessing this is because many exceptionally skilled writers focus on crafting incredible sentences and less on organizing and structure.
Sometimes they get back to it with a clever tie-in to everything or theme and sometimes they don’t. I don’t recommend going that way, at least not while you’re still just beginning.
Let me be clear: everything you write after the introduction of your thesis should have everything to do with your thesis; it should be immediately relevant. If you want to ignore me and go off on your own in the future fine, but while you’re reading my work and taking my guidance always stay on topic. This is coming from someone who has trouble doing so.
Instead, have a logically unfolding argument in the right order, with higher priority items first. You could also put items in chronological order to explain at the beginning to start things off like a story, to more complex and/or supplementary arguments as your paper progresses.
You should plan your writing around your schedule, rather than planning your life around writing and becoming beholden to it, which is easy to do sometime, and which doesn’t help your paper when you haven’t planned thoroughly anyway.
1. Write in short blocks with frequent breaks. Have mini-goals within each of the blocks.
2. Have a general 2-3 hours per day, filled with those short blocks in the day, with goals you want to achieve by each block, when you’ve completed those goals (or run out of time), you’re finished and you stop. Don’t go any later than your allotted time unless you have to. Plan for it beforehand and give yourself enough time to finish your paper before the due date.
5. Editing for the Best Possible Presentation… and Grade
The most oft-forgotten and neglected step after outlining is undoubtedly editing. Neglected is more accurate than forgotten; we all know we should edit more, but after all the work we’ve put in up to this point we just don’t feel like it, and if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, it isn’t as fun as the other steps!
We also know and tell ourselves we could have done a better job and written a better paper… if only we had edited more.
Part of the reason it’s hard is because we don’t know how to do it and haven’t practiced sufficiently enough to make it easy. You get better at editing the more you do it, especially when you practice the tips I’m about to give you.
Editing is so much more than type checking and proofing, it’s analyzing how close you were to getting your message across as established in your outline, and tweaking and refining your elements to get even closer to that goal.
It’s also not hacking apart your paper and changing everything when everything doesn’t just fall into place and work perfectly. Sometimes that needs to happen, like when you realize you may need to start from scratch, but doing so without re-outlining and only editing alone will make it less refined, sophisticated and more shortsighted and premature when compared to your earlier drafts.
Did you achieve the original vision you had for your paper? How did it all turn out? Let’s see…
1. Outline, yet again. This is your guiding light to show you whether you achieved your goals or not. How far were you from when you initially set out to do? Did you achieve your goals and fulfill that vision?
2. Is it smooth and does it flow? Does it make sense and the best possible case given the order of its presentation? Could things have been stated better? This comes after the initial vision has been achieved.
3. Peer review for proofing, because you won’t find all of your typos and errors by yourself. Trust me on this one, from someone who publishes information guides for a living with embarrassing typos: have at least one other person proofread your paper. Do a variety of people so you can get opinions on what others think.
6. Checklist of all the Things a Great Paper Must Have
This one might seem even stranger than outlining and editing, like it’s just another redundant thing I’m making you do that has no real effect on your grade… but just trust me and take my word for it: it’s absolutely crucial and necessary.
Checklists will vary depending on the assignment, and will grow to include paper requirements and your own ideas, similar to your outline, but here’s a basic one I like to provide for my readers:
1) Flexible thesis that allows you many possible options and directions to take your writing
2) Structure of introduction
3) Sufficient analysis for all supporting paragraphs
4) Structure of supporting arguments, the order they appear in, their flow and how they support, augment and play off of your thesis
5) Powerful conclusion
Notice how it’s more purpose and idea centered and audience targeted than just saying what you think? This helps keep you on track.
There needs to be a logical argument and flow to your paper that makes sense, priority-wise and the natural unfolding progression of your argument.
Presenting your thesis in the best way makes for the best grade. A great thesis alone, no matter how clever, unique, nuanced, in-depth and open-ended or really specific, isn’t enough all by itself. You also need to capitalize on the thesis’s potential to unfold into a fantastic presentation, and that involves planning with an outline and good research especially to reach its full potential.
Thanks for reading and best of luck with your paper!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I run StudentWritingGuides.com [http://www.studentwritingguides.com], the virtual home of my e-book How to Write Great Research Papers in 7 Steps [http://www.studentwritingguides.com]. I wrote this book for college students who need to improve their papers right now. I specifically highlight the 7 necessary steps you must take to get an ‘A’, all in one place. Not only will you be getting better grades, but you’ll be worker less and easier than you are now. Visit us at StudentWritingGuides.com today.