I recently submitted a 20-page/12-resource final paper for my class. It was a challenging and time-consuming process, but I learned a lot about my topic and felt proud of the final product. I must admit, though, it was a huge relief to finally hit the submit button.
I wanted to share a few tips about how I got through the process. Please share your strategy for writing final papers in the comment section below. The best strategy I have found for writing long papers is to start EARLY and break it up into different stages:
- Final papers require many sources. For this paper, 10 references was the minimum. Don’t forget, it takes a lot of time (a lot more than I anticipated) to find those sources. When in the online library, be sure to use the “advanced search” option and check “scholarly journal” so you know all your results will be peer-reviewed. You will likely need to try different keywords to find the articles that are useful, so give yourself time to do this.
- After you find your resources, read them, and take good notes. Creating this comprehensive references document can help you later when you are trying to figure out how to incorporate sources into your paper. Because I had so many articles, I actually used a color-coding system to keep track of different authors. I used different colors to highlight information from different articles and then incorporated that information into the final paper, maintaining those colors. At one point, my paper was filled with color, but it beats trying to look back through your resources and attempt to figure out who said what.
- As you read the textbook, take notes on your computer. The days of highlighting and writing in the margins are long gone. If you take notes on your computer, you have a thorough document that can be used in your final paper.
- Create a detailed outline. I like to write as much as I can think of in the outline to get my initial thoughts down on paper and see how the paper might be constructed. Sometimes I write in complete sentences, sometimes I don’t. When you start to write the final piece, your outline will give you a lot more to start with and you may be able to use some of those paragraphs directly in your paper.
- As you start the actual writing process, I like to cut and paste the headings from my outline directly into my paper and then start adding in relevant sources under those headings. Once I have information in the right place, I start writing the paper, section by section. Oftentimes you discover that topics should be in a different order than you anticipated in your outline, so if you write in sections you can easily move things around to make it flow better.
- Style the document according to APA style (or whatever citation guidelines are required). Double check that you cited your sources correctly in the reference page.
- Edit. And then edit it again. I read my papers through at least twice. I like to walk away from it after the first reading and then come back to it later with fresh eyes.
- Run it through TurnItIn, if that is required. Obtain the originality report (keeping in mind sometimes this takes time).
- Read the assignment instructions again, just to make sure you have done everything the instructor requested such as naming the file correctly.
- Upload the paper and the originality report to the classroom and HIT SUBMIT. It is really a great feeling to see it posted and completed.
The bottom line is: Do not wait until the last week of class to start your final paper. If you take the paper-writing process in steps, you can save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety, and chances are you will write a better paper. Good luck!
Do you have any tips to add? How do you go about tackling a final paper?
By Leischen Stelter
Online Learning Tips, Special Contributor