During your college years, you will be faced with an academic paper that you will find difficult to write. While you may have written many papers, one will seem overwhelmingly daunting. The reason may be unclear, but it might simply be the subject matter. You may have difficulty knowing how to approach the assignment or be unclear on the professor's expectations. You may be confused by the guidelines or outline supplied by your professor.
We've all gotten writer's block and research overload. You've compiled all necessary research materials. With your academic journals, books, statistical reports and websites prepared, you sit in front of your laptop or pc and draw an absolute blank. Your thoughts seem neither cohesive or concise.
There is also what I've deemed the “research overkill effect”. You gather a massive amount of research materials and throw your thoughts into words and suddenly realize that what was supposed to be a six-page paper is now much longer than expected. How do you condense it and maintain the integrity of your content?
All of these problems are extremely frustrating and major time-wasters. College students learn quickly how stress and time-constraints diminish the ability to concentrate and to focus.
Here are some tips for writing a difficult academic paper.
Firstly, if you don't understand exactly where your professor is going with the assignment, then ask. Respectfully request a meeting. This is an important part of his or her job and surely they would rather have you come to them and ask for clarification, than to have you submit a paper that is far removed from their intent. You can also ask fellow students how they perceive the assignment and the professor's expectations, but for clarity, you should go to the source and speak to your professor directly.
Secondly, once you understand exactly what the paper is about and your professor's intent, don't simply grab as many reference materials as possible. Make sure that you read the abstract for each academic journal article and the synopsis for each book. These short summaries are helpful in deciding if the article will be relevant to your subject matter.
Professors will often clearly define the types of reference and research materials that they want students to use and sometimes they will even define an exact number and type. For example, they may say that for a particular paper that they want only academic journals or just books. They sometimes do not want any websites used at all. They may also ask for a combination of sources and be specific about how many of each they want. Always follow the professor's guidelines.
Gathering reference and research materials for a paper is about quality and not quantity. College professors are not impressed that a student used twenty sources, if most of them are not directly relevant.
When doing your research for sources, don't go overboard and grab everything you can find. Make sure everything you gather is relevant for your paper. If not, you will only waste time reviewing materials that will prove useless.
Thirdly, while adhering to your professor's guidelines, make your own outline for your research paper as you read through your reference materials.
Having your reference and research materials in good order and having an outline may help to avoid writer's block. If not, you will be like an artist in front of a blank canvas with no subject and no idea of what to translate into art. Starting out the right way will help you to stay on-point and not get bogged down with simply throwing random thoughts about your topic into your paper and having to read unneeded materials and remove huge sections of your work that are not relevant later on.