It is easy to get overwhelmed with reading, research and homework assignments to the point where you hardly know what day it is. No wonder you find that you have a term paper or research project due next week and you haven’t even chosen your topic yet. Yikes! What do you do? Here are a few writing tips to help you get started on your next term paper or research project.
Find a topic, form a plan
Before you do anything else you need to decide what you will write about in your term paper assignment. Your teacher may have given you a list of requirements; be sure to read these and get all your questions answered before you start working.
You also need to know what kind of term paper your teacher wants. Examples of common types of papers can be found at the A+ Research and Writing site maintained by the Internet Public Library (IPL).
Term papers typically fall into categories such as:
- Research paper
- Argumentative or persuasive essay
- Compare and contrast
- Narrative essays
Next, examine the possible topics that you can write about. A great site for researching topics is Questia, the premier online research and paper-writing tool for students. One helpful text is Shortcuts for the Student Writer by Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer.
The authors suggest that, once you’ve found your topic, you make a list of main points that might be in your paper along with any details that come to mind. Then start grouping the ideas into categories. You can do this easily with a computer or by hand with index cards.
“Then make a new list with the related points grouped together. Decide which idea is most important and cross out ideas or details that do not relate to it. Arrange your points so that each will lead up to the next. Be sure each section of your essay has examples or facts to strengthen your ideas.”
Teachers don’t just want you to repeat what others have said; they want to know what you have to say. A helpful technique to get you started is called freewriting. Here’s how it works. You set yourself a goal of writing non-stop for 10 minutes jotting down:
- What you know about the topic
- What interests you about the topic
- What questions you have about the topic
The questions you have will help form the backbone of your term paper and will give you a focus for your research.
Allen Brizee described a freewriting process that he called “prewriting” in his June 8, 2011 post for the Purdue Online Writing Lab titled, “Introduction to Prewriting (Invention).” To help get your ideas flowing Brizee suggested, “Brainstorm. Gather as many good and bad ideas, suggestions, examples, sentences, false starts, etc. as you can. Perhaps some friends can join in. Jot down everything that comes to mind, including material you are sure you will throw out. Be ready to keep adding to the list at odd moments as ideas continue to come to mind.”
Writing the introduction
It’s easy to get writer’s block, especially if you try to write your paper from beginning to end. Oddly enough, it’s easier to write the introduction to your term paper at the end of the process at the same time you write your conclusion. The purpose of your introduction is to, well, introduce what you’re going to say in your paper. You can do that best after you have already written the body of the paper.
Writing the introduction and conclusion at the same time allows you to:
- Introduce your topic and tell your reader what they will learn by reading your paper
- Summarize and bring together all of your main points in your conclusion where you will echo the promises that you made in your introduction.
The Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS) Research Guide has several Tip Sheets with advice for writing papers. Regarding the introduction, the writers said, “Start with a couple of sentences that introduce your topic to your reader. You do not have to give too much detailed information; save that for the body of your paper. Make these sentences as interesting as you can. Through them, you can hook a reader and get them very interested in the line of thinking you are going to develop in your project.”
At this point you have your intro and conclusion along with a list of main points to expand on. Now that your juices are flowing, you can complete the body of your paper with style and confidence.