Tag Archives: organization

Four paper-planning hacks

by Meredith Hamilton

It’s Friday. Perhaps you’re sitting at your desk feeling completely overwhelmed by all the work you have to do. Maybe you feel lost or disoriented. We’ve all been there, but you don’t have to stay there. Here are four paper-planning tricks that will make writing your papers a smooth, organized, and stress-free process:

  1. Schedule a “thinking period.” Designate a time to think about your paper. Ideally, this will happen soon after you receive your paper assignment. Try going for a walk or taking a bike ride while you think. Movement can be a great way to stimulate ideas and get your creative juices flowing. This will ultimately leave you more prepared to begin the planning process.
  1. Create a calendar in Excel. Fill in your class times and extracurricular activities. (This includes sports, student government obligations, etc.) Once you’ve done this, fill in your work hours. Now, you’re going to plan when to work on your paper. Let’s pretend that your paper is due week 5, and you’ve decided to dedicate six hours to it each week. Block off this time on your schedule. Use bold print or colored print—something that will grab your attention. I like this strategy because then I can’t claim that I don’t have time to work on my papers.

Your calendar might look something like this:

paper calendar

  1. Create (effective) notifications on your phone or laptop. Use your phone or laptop’s calendar function. This is your friend. Once you’ve put your designated “paper-writing time” into your Excel calendar, create notifications that you’ll actually pay attention to. This means you should turn off the snooze setting and set multiple alarms. The notifications will remind you of the commitment you made to work on your paper.
  1. Set a word-count goal. Now that you’ve gotten to the actual paper-writing session, set a word-count goal for yourself. The goal shouldn’t be so high that it takes away from the quality of your work, but it should be high enough to encourage you to make good headway on your paper—try 500 words per session. If you use your designated time effectively, you’ll find that you’ll finish well before the due date.

Planning out your papers encourages you to fully commit to your work, and this ultimately makes writing a lot more enjoyable. Happy planning!


Meredith Hamilton is a junior political science and English double major.


1-2-3-4 Introduction!

by Meredith Hamilton

Introduction paragraphs are easily the most daunting part of the writing process. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the sheer magnitude of information you need to convey. If you’re feeling this way, take a step back and take a deep breath.


  1. Logical organization. Think of your introduction paragraph as an upside-down equilateral triangle—broad at the top and focused at the bottom. Mirror this in your organization. Begin with a broad statement about your topic and slowly ease your reader into your focused thesis statement at the end.
  2. Assertive voice. Try not to use words like “seems” or “appears.” This will weaken your overall argument and not make the strong stance that your introduction paragraph should take.
  3. To the point. Don’t give in to the temptation to state all of your information in your introduction. I know it sometimes feels like you need to tell your readers everything at the beginning so that they’ll understand later, but this just isn’t the case. It’s actually more helpful to a reader if you keep your introduction simple and focused—drawing on the basic information that will best introduce your topic.
  4. Re-evaluate. Okay, so you’ve finished your introduction paragraph. Leave it alone for a few days. Let yourself have time away to think and evaluate. You’ll come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective! Then you’ll be able to revise your introduction as needed.

The key to a good introduction is a clear focus. If you know and can articulate where you want your paper to go, then your introduction will reflect your intentions. So don’t be scared! Introduction paragraphs are the best way to build a claim, and it’s about time you made your own claim!

Meredith Hamilton is a sophomore majoring in political science and English. Two of her favorite college experiences thus far have been studying abroad in England and Spain. 

Claims + evidence = persuasion

by Shannon Naylor

Claims and evidence make sense in a courtroom: the prosecutor claims that the defendant did the crime and provides evidence to build her case. If there is not enough evidence, or it takes the wrong form, the jury doesn’t accept the claim of guilt. The same system applies in persuasive writing, although with lower stakes. As the writer of a persuasive paper, you must make a claim or series of claims that must then be supported by evidence.

Let’s clarify what we mean with some definitions. In our example of a court case, the claim is the accusation of guilt. In a paper, the claim is the thesis and every other statement that is something that can be argued. Courtroom evidence might include video surveillance footage or fingerprints left behind at the scene of the crime. In a paper, evidence is comprised of facts, examples, and data.

We have claims and evidence, but how do we use them? The first step is to remember that any paper that is all evidence (that means only evidence) is a report, not a persuasive essay; likewise, a paper that is made of only claims cannot be persuasive because the claims are unfounded (without evidence). To illustrate: if I were to lecture on the theme that cats make the best pets, I would never persuade you of my position if I didn’t list reasons why. Similarly, if I rattled off cat facts, you would probably be confused (and then frustrated) at my lack of explanation. A balance must be struck between the two so that you have something to be persuasive about (claims) and something to be persuasive with (evidence).

In practice, this is easily seen in the structure of a typical paragraph, which opens with a topic sentence, or claim. This is followed by the body of the paragraph, which is a mixture of facts (evidence) and commentary (claims tying facts together). To see the balance of claims and evidence in your writing, try going through your papers with two highlighters. Use one color to highlight each claim, and the other color to highlight each piece of evidence. Now that they are visible, you can check to make sure that your claims and evidence are working together harmoniously.

Shannon Naylor is a senior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. Currently, she is working on capstones for her majors and has just finished the spring production of Our Country’s Good.

Chop off an arm, save a life

by Bailey Bischoff

You know it’s the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier… you stare straight ahead, wishing things could be different… mentally forcing yourself to take control… repressing the urge to run away… you can do this… you CAN do this…. You can DO this… you take a deep breath… and… and…. Delete an entire paragraph.

It can be a difficult task to revise a paper. It takes a willingness on the part of the author to critique his or her own writing. Oftentimes, we put so much thought and effort into the act of writing that we can’t bear to see our paper torn apart by red slashes and arrows or see our precious words deleted. Sometimes, we don’t think that we’ll be able to come up with anything else to replace the words that are already on the page. However, there comes a time when we must realize that revising is necessary and that to truly improve our writing we must look at it with impartial eyes.

One of the most important pieces in the revision process is time. It can be extremely challenging to give yourself enough time to not only write the paper but also revise it. However, it is even more challenging to properly revise when your deadline is hanging over your head, as there is more pressure to just be done with it.

It is also important to take time in between writing and revising your paper. Take a walk, take a nap, do other homework, eat dinner: just give yourself time before looking at your paper again. You will be less attached to the words on the page if you are looking at it with new eyes and a refreshed mind. Your ability to refine your paper stems from your ability to distance yourself from your paper when you revise. Sometimes you have to chop off an arm to save a life.

Tips for revision:

  • Give yourself time to both write AND revise your paper.
  • After writing, take a break (walk, nap, eat dinner, etc.).
  • Revise your paper knowing that you can always improve and that you will have the creativity and inspiration necessary to replace what you cut out.
  • Have a friend/peer look at your paper for an even more objective critique.
  • If you can, look at your paper again for any final revisions or edits.

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science.


Do not read all the text

by Katya Rivers

So you are in college, you are having the time of your life, and then Sunday comes around and you have a paper due Tuesday. You haven’t even gotten to the point of opening Word and writing your name and the date. And the worst part is that right next to you is a stack of books, journal articles, and essays that you haven’t even looked at. You estimate the pages of dense reading that await you—well over a thousand—on this gloomy Sunday afternoon. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. You aren’t doomed.

Sure it’s doable to read all of that information, but it’s not necessary! That’s right…you do not need to read all the text. You are saved. The important thing to realize in this situation is that there is a way to get through all of that reading material and write one heck of an essay. Let’s get started.

My Perfect Strategy—from a senior who finally figured it out.

  • Read the title—Help your mind prepare for what you are about to read and digest.
  • Read the introduction and/or summary and the conclusion—Gather the most important points.
  • Take notice of boldface headings and subheadings—This helps create a structure in your thought to organize the information you are receiving and absorbing. This will help you deal with the details to come.
  • Make sure to take full notice of graphics—Charts, maps, diagrams, pictures, etc. are there to make a point. DO NOT OVERLOOK THEM (take it from someone who’s done it too many times and suffered).
  • Notice reading “clues”—Italics, bold face, print, clearly stated objectives.
  • Question—Develop your own questions as you read. This is where your thoughts begin to connect to the text in front of you, and you begin to form your own opinion on the topic or issue. This is also where magic happens, and these questions may become the birth of your thesis.
  • Always annotate and make notes, highlights, symbols, etc. —This is for future reference when you are actually writing your paper. It will help you find and reference your information and quickly access major points you related to. This is also your way of contributing to the scholarly discussion you’re in college to join.

Remember good writing always starts with good reading. Have fun!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.


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.

Taking notes like a pro

by Meg Andersen

Learning how to take notes effectively is one of the best skills to master in college. Whether you prefer taking notes with pen and paper or using programs such as Evernote or MS OneNote, here are a few strategies to help you retain the right information when taking notes in class:

Be organized.

Have separate notebooks (physical or digital) for each class. Whether you organize your notes by chapter, topic, or date, be consistent about how you store your notes. You will be glad you did when it is time to study for the test! One advantage about using Evernote or MS OneNote is that you can search your notes for keywords. Being able to quickly find something in your notes can make studying much more efficient.

Do the reading.

This may sound obvious, but coming to class prepared makes taking notes much easier. It’s hard to recognize the most important points of a topic that you aren’t prepared to discuss. Being prepared might take more time, but you’ll feel less stressed and more confident about engaging in the class. And you’ll learn more.

Listen for cues.

If you’re listening to a lecture and feel lost as to what you should be jotting down, try listening for some basic cues. First, listen for the big ideas. What is the main topic of the lecture? Professors generally emphasize points by

  • repeating them,
  • giving specific examples, or
  • summarizing them at the end of their lecture.

If you are viewing a PowerPoint, it’s okay to politely ask if the PowerPoint will be available on Blackboard. If the presentation will be viewable later, spend more time listening and less time writing down everything on every slide. If the presentation will not be on Blackboard, don’t worry—just record the key points. They are probably headings or in a bolder typeface.

Separate ideas.

When taking notes, most students prefer the rough outline format. With any format, be sure to leave space between points so that you can add other ideas later on, if needed. Taking notes in a slightly more spread out format can also leave room for jotting down questions that you think of during the lecture which can be asked at an appropriate time.

These are just a few ideas that have been helpful in my experience! I recommend checking out Evernote or MS OneNote if you haven’t tried them, and do what works for you!

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

Getting your thoughts onto paper

by Bailey Bischoff

It can be daunting to stare at a blank page and realize that it’s up to you to fill it. It can be an even more daunting task when you aren’t sure where to start or what to say. You may have a thesis but feel unclear about how to structure your argument; or maybe it’s difficult to think about how all of your research and conclusions will flow together throughout your paper. During times like these, I find it helpful to take ten minutes or so to do a little pre-writing before I begin. It makes it easier to start writing if I have a general idea of what information I want to put in my paper.

While there are multiple techniques for pre-writing, from outlines to free writing, I will focus on a mind map here. Sometimes, in order to delve deeper and really see and analyze what you are thinking, it is good to let go of writing conventions and worrying about grammar, which may hold you back. Mind maps can help you do this because they rely on arrows and colors to relay information and connections.

A mind map is similar to techniques one can use for brainstorming. Essentially, you start with your topic, draw a circle around it, and then list all the information related to your topic in bubbles surrounding your central topic bubble. You can get creative and use different colored circles to show different types of information. You might write down a piece of information you got from a book and circle it in red, and then write down a connection you made between two pieces of information and circle it in blue. You can use arrows to help describe relationships between information as well.

The purpose of the mind map is to get your thoughts on paper and explore connections and relationships between pieces of information that you may not have even realized you were making. I find this technique especially helpful when I don’t know where to get started writing a paper, and I find myself so distracted about writing conventions that I don’t take the time to think about the argument or the connections I’m trying to make within the paper. This technique can free you from the worry of making coherent sentences so that you can focus solely on how you are thinking about your paper, your ideas.


After you have listed every piece of information connected to your paper, analyze what you have written and recognize the connections that now appear between pieces of information. Start filtering those pieces of information into more of a structured outline by dividing them into different categories, like introduction, body, and conclusion. Once you have a better idea of what your paper will look like, turn back to the blank screen; perhaps writing a paper won’t seem like such a daunting task anymore. After all, you have all of the information you need to write it.

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science and global perspectives.

Reining in your creative genius

by Samantha Bronkar

Have you ever had writing moments when thoughts flowed directly through your fingertips onto paper? Rather than letting the flow of inspiration stop so you can find a perfect word or phrase, you can be free to express ideas as easily as they enter your mind.

The kicker? Revision.

If a writer wants to embody joyous, inspired thoughts on paper, she must also take on the task of reviewing her ideas individually and collectively. She must evaluate her ideas for validity, clarity, and flow.

Below are three questions that can guide your editing process:

How can I say this sentence more clearly? Take this question one sentence—one phrase, even—at a time. First drafts are often full of cluttered and unclear sentences. Once you stumble across a confusing or long-winded sentence, try breaking it down into its basic elements. Figure out what it was you were trying to say in the first place. When you understand what you wanted to say, simply say it! In the words of Jack Kerouac, acclaimed American novelist and poet, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Rough draft thoughts can be messy. Revision is the time for tweaking and refining; this is the step when useless words, phrases, or sentences can be removed.

Does this sentence (or thought) help my argument? Look at your paper as a whole. First, decide what your thesis or purpose is in the paper. Next, take on the introductory sentence for each paragraph. Your introductory sentence should guide the rest of the paragraph. If you come across a sentence that seems to counter your main purpose, or sidetrack from it, the sentence may belong somewhere else in the paper, or the thought is irrelevant altogether. Tying each point back to the original thesis can help determine a sentence’s importance (or weakness).

Does this paragraph make sense in the context of my entire paper? (Is it being a good neighbor?) Does it prove my thesis? Some paragraphs can be complete and insightful on their own. However, they must also work with the other paragraphs to prove the thesis. Start with one paragraph. Read through it and decide the purpose it serves in your entire paper. With that overall goal in mind—your thesis—move on to the paragraph following it. The following paragraph should build on the material from the previous one, and both of these—along with all the others—should work together to prove your original thesis or point.

Help yourself out by leaving plenty of time to revise. In your rough draft, you should feel free to be messy, ask big questions, and take leaps of faith. Let your inspiration flow! Before the final is due (and hopefully not the night before), take the time to re-evaluate your initial thoughts and refine them. Remember, revising should be the largest part of the writing process!

Samantha Bronkar is an English major, and she is a member of the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.

Rainbow revision

by Shannon Naylor

I recently finished a draft of an important research paper. Like most of my first drafts, it needed many improvements before it was ready to be turned in. I printed out a copy, grabbed a red pen, and started editing. By the time I was done with the first page, I could hardly distinguish between the different edits, notes, and proposed additions that littered the page. Frankly, it was a mess. What to do?

Good revision, like a good paper, is organized so that you can make sense of what editing needs to be done. On my first pass, I hadn’t been looking for specific things to fix, and I had made the edits difficult to read. Here’s the revision strategy that I’ve been using since then in order to polish my papers.

This particular strategy works best with a hard copy of the paper. It allows you to have a tactile interaction with the process, but you can achieve something similar with Microsoft Word if preferred. I find that it is easiest to use three differently colored pens and a highlighter. Any colors will do so long as they are readable, but I like to use red, blue, and green pens with a yellow highlighter.

  1. Skim through your paper without making any marks to determine what its weaknesses are. (In mine, I needed to fix typos, add commentary, remove repetition, and edit for sentence clarity.)
  2. On your next pass, cross out typos and poorly phrased or unnecessary sentences with the red pen.
  3. Write in changes and additions with blue pen.
  4. Use the green pen to make marginal notes about what each paragraph says and does. (See Put It in Reverse for details on this strategy.)
  5. Go through with the highlighter to mark structural issues or patterns that need to be made visible. (This may change from paper to paper. For example, in one paper I marked places where I repeated words with a highlighter, but in another I used it to indicate where I already had commentary, where it was missing, or where I needed to add more.)
  6. Celebrate!

By the end of this revision process, you should have a good understanding of the current state of your paper as well as how you intend to fix it. You’ll be set to have a radical time revising!


Shannon is a junior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. She is looking forward to studying and performing Shakespeare with the England Abroad in the fall.