How Not to Write a Paper 101

By Ellie Drabnis on September 12, 2017

Even those of us who like writing don’t always have the best time writing papers, especially for classes we aren’t so fond of. But, that said: here’s a loose guide to follow when starting a paper regardless of what class it’s for.

Here is a guide on how NOT to write a paper. In other words: How Not to Write a Paper 101.

1. DON’T: Skip the reading/material that the paper is on

To be very honest, unless it’s a subject I like, I very much hate reading. But sometimes we’ve all got to do that reading we’re dreading, especially since most papers require quotes and other various in-text citations. Much as it stinks, you’ve got to do it but … how?

Easy!

DO: Use any method to get at least the reading for the paper done

The Pomodoro method has gotten me through several papers and not to mention through several study sessions where I wouldn’t have picked up the material otherwise. I’ve got a very short attention span as do most people in general. But this technique is described as studying for 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off with every third break from reading being 20 minutes long. This method allows focusing on one task for a set amount of time which is more productive than telling yourself, “Oh yeah, I’ll get to this” and never actually getting to what you’ve planned.

Or, maybe spacing out anything by timing it isn’t your go-to when it comes to anything. You could always try the gummy bear method which has also gotten me through some pretty boring reading that ended up saving me in the end since I needed to focus in order to receive the reward of the ‘gummy bear’ at the end of it and that made everything much sweeter.

Getting the required reading done is half the battle.
(https://www.pexels.com)

2. DON’T: Save citations for the last minute

We’ve all been there with the, “Oh, I can totally just cite this later.” And, that’s all well and good as long as you do, indeed, remember to cite the piece of info you were using. If you go without citing, you may end up in plagiarism territory even if that was not your intention.

DO: Start a file with the sources you’re using and the proper citations

This doesn’t necessarily have to be another MS Word file or even an entire Google doc. This separate file can just be a note in your phone with the pages you used, quotes or information you’re choosing to cite, and the name of the author. This makes stressing over citing at the last minute a thing of the past and typically, you can send this information to yourself via e-mail or even just re-type it if you’d prefer.

A phone note such as this could work as your ‘pre-citations’ page
(screenshot from my iPhone, edited in FireAlpaca)

Websites such as EasyBib, Citation Machine, and even Cite This For Me are of great help when it comes to making the proper citation. On these websites, you can input what paper format you’re using to cite and input the publication and author names accordingly.

3. DON’T: Wing it over the subject/topic of the paper

Seriously, if you have the ability to plan for time to work on a paper, do it. If and when you wait until the absolute last minute to work on your paper — in other words, if you do choose to procrastinate — you’re only going to end up hurting yourself because the work itself will not be as well-done if you had started sooner. Your words and points will come across much more clearly if you’ve given yourself more time to not only edit but to compose your thoughts as a whole.

DO: Start compiling your thoughts after receiving your assignment.

That doesn’t mean write up an outline the day after you’ve been given the assignment. Given gen-eds, electives, and major classes, plus taking time out to do very important things like feeding yourself and getting some sleep, that’s not possible.

But, if you’ve been given the choice of writing an opinion on this or that or choosing which side you’re going to take, pick that early on and look for sources that will support your point as well as an opposing point to challenge and overall prove wrong.

Really, start putting your thoughts together as soon as possible.
(https://www.pexels.com)

4. DON’T: Assume your grammar is perfect

Even the most accomplished journalists know that their first draft isn’t perfect. No one is immune to making grammatical errors and maybe that’s a fact of life. Regardless, don’t feel bad about a missing a preposition here or a small typo there. But, know that not all professors are as lenient with those typos and missing prepositions as others.

No one’s grammar is flawless and everything can seem to turn into a jumble of letters and nothing more. Don’t fret; always check.
(https://www.pexels.com)

DO: Have someone proofread your paper

Assuming you can’t meet with an English tutor, perhaps having a friend proofread your paper would be your best bet. Or, if you’d really rather not bug a friend, another way to proofread your paper is to paste it into a free online grammar checker. For example, I have a Grammarly account, with is pretty helpful and can be used under free or premium but there are a wide variety of free grammar checkers out there.

Please, take this guide to heart and know that you’ll be much better off actually getting your paper done rather than procrastinating.

-Comm Major with minors in journalism and broadcasting -An aspiring reporter -Mixed and proud ^^ (Russian American on Dad's side,100% Guatemalan on mom's side) -Spanish is my first language

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