Paper Writing Tips

Since I just finished chapter 2 of my research paper, I decided to share my paper writing tips.  The paper I’m writing has to be at least 20 pages, and write now I’ve got about 25, and I haven’t written chapter 3 yet.  This is also how I wrote my senior thesis, so it’s been tested a few times.

Paper Writing Tips

Don’t procrastinate!

This is the best tip I can give, although I’m not good at taking it myself.  True story, I rewrote my entire thesis in 48 hours after procrastinating the editing/rewriting process.  I didn’t sleep, mainlined lemonade, and cranked it out.  It was not cute.  Don’t do this.


Find you best background noise.

Depending on what I’m writing, I listen to different things.  For some papers I need no music, just Coffitivity or Soundrown.  For others, I need opera or dubstep with very limited vocals, preferably no vocals at all.  Still other papers require a specific artist.  With this paper I’ve been listening to Bastille almost exclusively, with the occasional Taylor Swift break.  I can’t tell you what will work for you, but give those a try.


Find your best writing spot.

Only you know what your best writing spot is.  I like to write at a table or a desk, but currently I don’t have a desk, so I write at the dining room table.  It’s not ideal because I can hear the living room tv, my grandmother’s in the living room and she always wants to chat, and I’m often stuck having to fix something in the house.  For you, it might mean going to the library, or a coffee shop, maybe sitting in your favorite spot on the couch.  Finding just the right spot is important so that you’re not distracted  by bodily discomfort or by environmental factors.


Outline & find quotes ahead of time.

There’s nothing worse than struggling to figure out what your next paragraph is about, or trying to find a quote to support your point.  Instead, I pull out quotes while I’m reading the articles, then type them into a document the page before my outline.  On the outline I use lettered sections and bullet points, and include the points I want to make, examples to use, which sources I want to cite, and the quotes I’ve pulled out.  I even write sentences to start the sections sometimes.


Reward yourself properly & at good intervals.  

You have to give yourself rewards, but they can’t all be food based.  That’s just not good for you.  Sometimes I reward myself with a snack, but other times it’s a music video, or a TED talk (like this one by Summer Beretsky about anxiety), or a walk with my dog.  For a longer break/reward, I might watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers or The Blacklist.  But, I can’t reward myself for every page, not even for a 25 page paper.  It’s going to be different depending on your goal, but you have to figure out the best intervals.  That could be half hour intervals, five page intervals, or section-based intervals.


Use the Pomodoro Method – but if you’re in the groove don’t stop.

This has really revolutionized the way I write papers.  Let me explain.  According to this method, you work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break.  Twenty-five more minutes of work, another break.  This goes on for four sessions, then you take a longer break, usually 15 minutes.  You can use a kitchen timer, an app, or a chrome extension.  For non-computer work (like reading and annotating) I use the app ClearFocus on my phone.  For computer work I use the chrome extension StrictWorkflow which serves as a timer and a self-control aid.  It blocks common distracting sites, and you can edit the list to your personal preferences.  If you’re really in the groove though, don’t stop writing until you end that section.

Paper Writing Tips

If you’re easily distracted (and even if you’re not) use an app to control your computer.

I always put on an app to keep me from visiting Facebook or Tumblr or Pinterest while I’m supposed to be writing a paper.  The chrome extension I use, StrictWorkflow, does this really well, so I rarely need anything else.  But I used to use ColdTurkey, which blocks sites for PCs, and I know tat Macs have Self Control as well.  I’m sure there are plenty of other programs and apps to do the same.  Minimizing distraction is, for me, the key to getting in the zone.


Make sure people know you’re working.

I live with my parents and my grandmother, so I tell them “Don’t bother me, I’m writing a paper.”  This always works on my mom, but not nearly as well with my other family members.  When I was at my undergrad, I would tell my roommate or any friends in the lounge not to bother me unless the building was on fire.  Even if you know they’ll still come and bother you, it might make them give it a second thought.


Turn your phone off.

Okay, so I didn’t turn my phone off while I was writing this paper.  But I did put it in another room until my breaks.  Our phones are such an integral part of our lives that when it rings we’re all conditioned to pick up, or check the text, or see who tweeted.  Turn it off, put it on vibrate, or put it away elsewhere so you can actually get your paper done.


That’s it, that’s all I’ve got for you.  Go forth and write!  (And leave your tips below in the comments!)


Advice For College Freshmen

This is the season for back to school, and back to college.  Freshmen are moving into their first dorms, freaking out about leaving their friends behind, and perpetuating freshmen rituals.  (Like the time some friends from high school and I all agreed to howl on our first night in our dorms, or the freshmen at AU jumping in cars with strangers for rides to frat parties – don’t do that one).  As a freshman, I know I needed a lot of advice.  I’m betting you do too.

Advice For Freshmen

You have incredible resources available, use them if you need them.

At most universities there is a counseling center, a medical center, and a wellness center.  These resources are kept confidential.  At my undergrad the medical center charged, but the others didn’t; for the first ten visits the counseling center was completely free of charge, and the wellness center was always free.  If you’re struggling, go and see these people.  A lot of students, especially freshmen, struggle with stress, homesickness, and loneliness.  College age is also the age when a lot of mental illnesses first manifest, and getting help early is the key to mental health.  

Record your thoughts and feelings.

This is a time you’ll want to remember.  You could go the traditional route and get yourself a journal.  (I like this one).  Maybe get a sketchbook and make an art journal.  You could even start a blog!  In five years you’ll want to remember just what freshman year was like.  Plus, this way you can look back in times of stress to previous times of stress and know that you got through them.  (Related to the previous piece, if you think you’re having any kind of mental illness symptoms or you’re concerned about your reactions to stressors, keeping a record can help your doctor or counselor in the future).

Remember that you are young.

I know a lot of people say these are the best years of your life, but they’re not.  Life always gets better, there is always going to be a better time in the future.  What this is, though, is a time to make mistakes and not take yourself too seriously.  You’re never going to be this free again in your life.  Try out all the new things you haven’t done before.  Visit different cities, eat different foods, experiment with different religious groups, take classes in every department.  This one also applies to dating, you’re in college, you don’t need to settle down, get married, and have kids.  Dating moves really quickly in college, but keep in mind that you’re young and you have plenty of time to decide what you want.  

Imagine others complexly.

It’s easy to think your professors are out to get you, that your friends secretly hate you, or that you have a nemesis (who’s really just that weird kid in your religion class who says everything you want to say before you get the chance).  But when you start feeling persecuted, remember that you are not nearly as important to everyone else as you are to yourself.  They’re probably not thinking about you when they do anything.  That kid in class is just on the same wavelength as you.  Your professors are just grading how they see fit.  They might be tough graders, but they’re not out to hurt you with their grades.  Imagine others complexly, and you’ll have a lot better time.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

A lot of us go to college and have our eyes opened to the world’s pains.  Whether that’s through classes, tumblr, volunteering, classmates, or a protest on the quad, you’re going to discover some pain in the world you never knew about.  And then you’ll get angry.  And then you’ll feel stupid and useless because you can’t change it.  Maybe you can’t.  But maybe you can.  If the injustice that’s lighting your fire is something that affects you, then start by changing your behaviour.  Talk to other people.  Write a blog.  If it doesn’t affect you, there are still plenty of ways to help people a world away.  Research the problem, and write a blog post about it to educate others.  Create a roundup of ways to help those who are there.  Go on a volunteer trip during a break.  You could even create a charitable organization of your own.  Helping others makes you feel great, but more importantly it makes the world a better place.  Walking around angry about the way the world works won’t change it.  You have to be the change.  


Take it from someone who’s been there before, you’re about to have a great four years.  It may not be the best four years of your life, but they will be great years.  And if they’re not?  You can always transfer, and you will always have a better future ahead.  Good luck.

(For more tips, see my video coming soon!)