Non-writing Tips on WritingContributed by Janette Siu on 02 October 2008 at 19:57
When you write a paper, you put a lot of effort into writing. "Good work, Captain Obvious," you say. Well, it turns out that there are things you can do, other than writing, to help you write a paper. Here's a few of them...
1) Read actively. Often, your professor will ask you to write a paper about something you read for that class. Therefore, if you read skillfully, you'll be better equipped to write well. Don't worry; reading skillfully doesn't mean that you can pronounce all the words. It means that you understand and are engaged in what you're reading, instead of letting the words just slip past your eyes.
You can do this by taking notes as you read, writing down or highlighting important quotes, or summarizing the main ideas of the reading. Just make sure that if you write down a note, you write down which page it was on, so you can find it quickly later when you're writing your paper. Similarly...
2) Keep a bibliography as you go. Almost all assignments will require you to cite authoritative sources in your paper, and it's a huge pain to try to go back after you're all done and figure out which sources you used. Write down all the information you need for your bibliography right after you're finished with a source. There's nothing more irritating than making an extra trip to the library because you forgot to write down some bit of information before you returned a book.
It might be even more helpful to organize your notes by source; that way, you won't have to go back through the list of twenty websites you looked at to try to remember which one gave the particular piece of information you want to use. An organized set of notes can make in-text citations much easier.
3) Make an outline. Many people find outlining to be an effective tool for organizing their thoughts. Write down your main ideas, and then organize them into a logical order. Write down the points you want to make about each idea, and make sure that there is a logical flow there too. As you write your paper, you might find that you need to make some adjustments to your outline, but at least you have a good starting point.
In addition to helping you organize your paper, an outline can help you figure out what content you want to include. You might discover, while you write your outline, that your argument is weak in a particular area, and maybe you need to do a little more research about that point. On the other hand, one of your ideas may not seem to fit with the rest of the points you have written down, in which case, it may be better not to include that particular idea.
If you still feel stumped about your paper, try stopping by during your professor's (or writing instructor's) office hours. Not only are they the ones who will be reading and grading your paper (and therefore, they're the ones who know what they're looking for and what will get you a good grade!), but the only reason they are holding office hours is so they can help you with any questions you may have! If you can't make it to their office hours, send them an email and they'll be happy to set up a time to meet with you.
Of course, you can always visit your friendly SAGES Peer Writing Crew tutor, who would be more than happy to help you out, whether you've written something already or not.