Tag Archives: checklist

How to write a research paper without feeling overwhelmed

by Laura Tibbetts

  1. Find a topic that interests you. Even if professors assign an overall topic for the paper, the topic will often be broad enough for you to find some aspect of it that interests you.
  1. Get sources. Use the library, I-Share, and databases to collect as many sources as you need about your topic.
  1. Research! Skim or browse through all the sources you’ve found, taking note of information that strikes you as particularly relevant to your topic or that provides an interesting opinion/perspective. Be on the lookout for short passages where an author expresses an idea clearly and concisely, because those passages may be useful to quote later in your paper. This stage of the process would also be a good time to start a bibliography so that you can keep track of your sources.
  1. Formulate a thesis. Based on the research you’ve done and the different opinions you’ve found on your topic, come up with a specific and arguable thesis—one that shows what the focus of your paper will be and illustrates your opinion about a question/perspective on your topic that came up in your research. Your thesis can always evolve as you write your paper.
  1. Outline. Now that you have a specific topic and thesis, make a basic outline with an introduction, conclusion, and the main topics supporting your thesis that you want to cover in the body of your paper. Add a few supporting points under each main topic. After making the basic outline, expand it by adding details to all of your paragraphs in the outline, and include specific quotes, paraphrases, or summaries from what you’ve found in your research (don’t forget to cite your sources!). Sandwich the research in between your own thoughts and opinions about the research. (See “A quote sandwich to remember.”)
  1. Make the outline into full sentences. You essentially already have your paper—now you just need to turn all the phrases in your outline into full sentences. You may need to add transitions so that everything flows smoothly, as well as introductory and concluding sentences to each paragraph.
  1. Revise and edit. This is arguably the most important step in the process of writing a paper, so make sure you leave enough time for as much revising as possible. It doesn’t matter if your initial paper is terrible; as long as you devote enough effort to this stage, you could still end up with a great paper.

One of the benefits of this process is that if you follow it, you entirely avoid the problem of staring at a blank page and trying to create a paper out of thin air. Breaking up the process into steps has made writing research papers much less overwhelming for me, and I hope you find it useful as well!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Assignment sheet as checklist

by Meg Andersen

With any project or paper, your assignment sheet is your best friend. It’s the roadmap to your success, providing answers to most of the questions you will have about the task at hand. It’s worth learning how to read an assignment sheet effectively—it will save time and energy, and your professor will appreciate not having to answer the same questions over and over again.

One of the best ways to approach an assignment sheet is to look at it as one big checklist. Try this: Take out a pen and a highlighter. First, with the highlighter, find the due dates of the various components of the assignment. Then highlight (in a different color if that’s helpful) the citation style you will be using, the number of sources you will need, and the length. This is all to help you get an overall sense of what the assignment entails.

Next, read through the assignment requirements. These components might include a thesis statement, a certain number of body paragraphs, a counterargument, visual aid, abstract, or title. With a pen, create check boxes in the margin next to every single requirement of the assignment (including the items you highlighted earlier). The left-hand column of your assignment sheet will start to look like a big to-do list. This is less daunting than it sounds, since once you have a checklist in front of you, the assignment may feel much less intimidating. I find it’s easier to tackle the assignment in pieces rather than all at once. Plus, this will be a way for you to double check that you are doing the assignment correctly as you go.

Once your checklist has been prepared, read through the assignment again and scan for instructions you don’t fully understand. If you are confused about an assignment, you will be less likely to want to do it, so ask your questions early. It is okay (and recommended, actually) to ask a professor if you can email her or set up a meeting outside of class to talk about the assignment. Just remember—don’t ask a question that is blatantly answered on the assignment sheet. The assignment sheet was thoughtfully put together to help answer your questions, so be sure to read it thoroughly.

Feeling stuck on an assignment is the worst—don’t hesitate to get the support you need. Visit the CTL (Center for Teaching and Learning) or the tutor café if you need help understanding or just getting started on an assignment. The sooner you understand the task at hand and where to begin, the better you’ll feel!

Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.