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.
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.
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!)