November 18, 2016

Tackling the College Research Paper (Plus A Free Checklist!)

Update: Sign up below for my weekly newsletter, and you'll get an improved, FREE checklist for tackling the college research paper delivered to your inbox! I'm drafting this an hour before I am to turn in the longest paper I've written in my college career: a 20-pager in APA style on the communication technology of my choice. This might be an unpopular opinion, but hey, I have many of those, so: I've never particularly disliked writing papers because I enjoy writing so much. Even if the subject matter is tedious, I'd rather write a paper than take an exam any day. I just really like crafting sentences and the satisfaction that results when all of the elements of a paper come together.

Soooooo, today's post is inspired by (very) recent events, and with exams and finals looming just after Thanksgiving break, I hope that my tips can come in handy for you. If they do, or if you have something to add to this post, feel free to drop me a comment! 

+ Outline it ASAP.
Even if that paper isn't due for another month, draft an outline of what you'll say. You don't want to be left doing this the week before it's due. My professor required us to outline our papers first, but I would have done so regardless. This will help you get all your ideas out, see what fits where and what doesn't fit at all, and keep track of your progress (e.g. how many more pages to write for subtopic A).

+ Utilize Google Scholar.
I didn't know about this resource until last year, and it's a good supplement to your university's libraries and databases. Not everything is something you'll want to cite, but in general, there's a pretty good assortment of scholarly sources.

+ Pace yourself.
Decide when you're going to write and for how long. Because my paper was assigned in September, I've had ample time to work on it and would write whenever I had extra time— downtime at work, between classes if one class ended early, and during other classes, if I'm being honest. If your advance notice is less and your deadline tighter than mine, you should schedule in writing time.

+ Write in sections.
This sort of goes along with the previous tip, and it's even more doable/practical when you're writing APA style because it involves clearly defined sections. I feel like the same thing applies to creative writing: sometimes you need to skip working on a few sections in favor of finishing up the sections that you're most confident that you can write well about or that you have the most information compiled for. This way, you won't feel like everything is half-finished because certain portions are complete and thorough. While I was writing my own paper, I would move onto an easier section (listing and citing statistics) when I would get frustrated with a harder one (synthesizing everything into a few conclusions). 

+ Cite, in the correct format, as you go.
The biggest mistake I made was not doing this, and I would absolutely not make it again. When I left work yesterday at 6 PM, I had hit 20 pages... but then I went home to spend four hours filling in all the details, including citations. I had pasted links into stickies on my laptop instead of adding them to my reference list as I used them, so I had to go back through and figure out which Billboard article was which, which study was from which year, etc. It was not fun, nor was it efficient. 

Any research paper experience/tips to add?

P.S. I'm taking next week off from blogging to enjoy my Thanksgiving break (I will be posting on Insta, if you wanna keep up), but I'll be back on Monday the 28th to kick off my #JingleBlogs series! So excited :)


  1. Cite in the correct format is so important!! I used the wrong format one time and ended up having a few marks deducted because of that. :( As for some research paper tips, I wrote about color-coding the essay when writing (here:, and it really helps!

    - Sabrina |


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