How to Write a Paper
by John Bandler
Here are some guidelines to help you write a paper better with guidance for students and also for anyone else to improve their writing or with a writing project. It is based upon my personal experience writing and teaching, with helpful concepts and tips. Of course, everyone is different and so is each writing project, so adapt to suit your needs.
I have written a lot over my years, lucky to have had good teachers, editors, and a lot of practice at work and by writing dozens of articles and two books. But still writing does not come easy for me. After years of teaching I gained insights on student writing and implemented a phased writing process to aid my students with the writing process and encourage continual research, editing, and refinement.
Anyone and everyone can improve their writing skills, whatever their background and wherever they are starting from now. The key is practice and effort. Without further ado, here are my tips.
- Work to develop good skills and habits with your writing process.
- Learn to type well. Free and reputable websites and apps can help you. Your effort and practice is what does it.
- Keep track of your electronic documents with good organization. Use good filenames, make backups, and know which is your current version.
- Keep improving your skills with your word processor (e.g. Word, Pages, Google Docs, etc.).
Specific tips for your next paper
- Put in continual effort. Writing a paper is process that takes time and effort. Plan ahead so that you can continually improve your paper, and so you do not have to rush into a deadline.
- You cannot write it at the last minute. Last minute work on a paper can result in a sloppy submission and worse. Instead, resolve to put in continual effort.
- Do not panic, try to relax. Some stress can be good and improve focus! But panic does not help. If you feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the paper that is due, focus on smaller steps and try to accomplish each little by little. If undue stress persists, take deep breaths, do pushups and sit-ups, or go for a walk and then come back to it.
- Don’t procrastinate. That won’t get the job done. Force yourself to accomplish a smaller task, or to work on the paper for a set period of time.
- Designate a period to focus and don’t get distracted. E.g., for 20, 40, or 60 minutes straight. This might be referred to as a “Pomodoro”.
- Take a break and come away from the paper. Your mind needs a rest. Whether the break is ten minutes, an hour, a day, or even a week, this rest period can help. Your brain may still be working during this break. When you return to the paper, you will have fresh eyes.
- Do not try to find shortcuts. Do not look at sample papers or other student work. This is often a confusing waste of time and may violate rules. Instead of looking for an easy way out, resolve to put in effort and do your own work. (For all you know, those other student papers are terrible or plagiarized).
- Do not copy or cheat or do anything unethical. This goes without saying! But some think about taking an unethical short cut, and some actually do it. Copying provides no learning value whatsoever, and it violates trust and rules. Those who copy or cheat learn nothing, and they do not gain confidence in their own abilities.
- Put in effort and submit an honest paper of your own work. Learn the material, develop and increase confidence in yourself.
- Research. Research is a process that needs to take place throughout the paper writing process, especially at the beginning. Your research notes should include the source, what is copied/quoted, etc. Identify facts and sources, and use logic and reasoning to develop conclusions and opinions.
- Try to organize your process. Before embarking on a first draft, work on these elements:
- Title, a good bullet sentence summary of what the paper is about
- A single paragraph summarizing your proposed paper. Think of this as an executive summary to focus yourself. You will be able to turn this into an introduction paragraph.
- An outline. An outline has a number of points including an introduction, main points, and a conclusion. Each point needs a short summary with bullet points.
- A list of references (that you have read) while doing research.
Once you have done the above, you may be ready to start on your first draft. As you write and continue to research, all of the above will need adjustment. That's part of the process.
- Revise and edit your paper. Your first draft will be rough – [almost] no one writes a good first draft. Even excellent experienced writers go through many drafts. Review paper organization, thought, and reasoning. Review sentence structure, grammar, and more. Read your paper aloud to help you pay attention and to hear how it sounds. Actively learn as you edit. Do not blindly follow automated editing suggestions. Review my checklist throughout the process.
- Write clearly. All of your words, sentences, and paragraphs should have purpose. Be respectful of the reader’s time.
- Understand what you are writing. You should understand and be able to explain what you write and what you mean. Never write or submit anything you don’t understand or cannot explain.
- Cite sources when appropriate. Cite a source when appropriate, such as when you are borrowing or adopting a thought or fact, or summarizing another writer's work.
- Cite and quote sources when appropriate. Never copy without quoting and citing. That would be plagiarism which is against the rules and is a terrible thing to do.
- When you cite include important information about what you are citing. Remember that the goal is for the reader to know what you are citing and be able find the material. Thus, you need specify author, title of the work, date of publication, place of publication, page number (if a book or long article), and internet link (where available).
- Try to use consistent proper citation format. This can be tricky. Take comfort in knowing I have struggled for decades with the [annoying] nuances of different citation formats. Consistency within your paper helps. Then check recommended citation formats and submission guidance for details. See my citation guide.
- Put in continual effort!
- Use my paper submission checklist during the process and before submitting your writing.
- For organization policies, use my policy checklist during the process and before submitting for approval.
These tips can help you to improve your writing techniques and the final product. Now it is up to you to apply them, practice, and put in effort.
Writing is an important skill for everyone, and no matter where we are now, we can improve. It is essential for students, job seekers, employees, managers, executives, and more. Good writing is a process that also involves researching, fact finding, and analysis. Everyone should know how to find facts, assess credibility and reliability of sources, and discern fact from fiction. Then we should have the skills to analyze those facts properly, applying sound logic and reasoning, to arrive at opinions and conclusions. None of that comes by magic, it requires practice and effort.
Additional Reading & Learning
- Paper submission checklist (before you turn it in)
- Helpful legal resources and links
- How to Learn and Study
- A guide to citations and references
- Students in my classes follow a process
- How to Take an Exam
- Certifications and Improving Your Knowledge and Credentials Relating to Technology, Cybersecurity, and More
- Students, Learning, and Teaching
- Policy Checklist
This page is hosted at https://johnbandler.com/how-to-write-paper/. Copyright John Bandler, all rights reserved.
A copy of this article is also available on Medium at https://johnbandler.medium.com/how-to-write-a-paper-b78d02370a47 (though perhaps not kept as current).
Page posted 8/4/2021. Last Updated 1/31/2023.