Study Skills

Study Skills

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Writing Constructive Papers

You do not have to dread writing research papers; all you've got to do is take the time to organize and prepare yourself for them. With proper planning, you can write a better paper more efficiently. Do not be intimidated by the amount of work you will have to do. Keep this Chinese proverb in mind when you start: A journey of a thousand miles is begun with a single step. Do not let the fear of the paper keep you from...

Getting Started

1. The first thing you want to do is give yourself enough time to work. For an average length (10 to 20 pages) paper, you should give yourself a month to adequately collect the library research information and supporting materials. At a bare minimum you should give yourself a week. Organization will help you make the most of whatever time you have. Write a quick schedule to help you keep track of time: list the days you have left and the time during the day you will be able to work. You will need to allot yourself time to go to the library, take notes, write an outline, write a first draft, and revise the paper for the final draft. Try not to set yourself up for a lot of late nights. Generally, people do better work when they are alert.

2. It is very important to start out your research with a solid thesis statement. This is the question you propose to answer in the paper. Some professors will want to see the proposed thesis statement before you start your research. Here are a few hints:

--Keep it simple. You do not need an enormous subject to work with.
--Make it specific. It's much easier to do research on a narrowly selected subject than a massive idea. Help yourself by narrowing it down.
--Make sure your idea will work. Check with your professor about the suitability of the thesis to the assignment. Do a little preliminary research in the library to make sure there is enough available material on your topic.

3. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the library. There are many floors and sections to the University library. Reference areas and various technologies are available to help you. It's a good idea to talk to the reference librarians and workers about where and how to start. If you are under a deadline, you do not want to waste precious time trying to locate materials. Every minute counts. Use the help that is available.

4. Use resources like The Reading/Writing Center located at 1010 JKHB (378-4306). They have trained experts to help you in the writing process.

Gathering Information

1. Use small (4" x 6" or 5" x 8") index cards. If you can, buy several different colors. If your subject has two or three separate main ideas, you can color code the research as you take notes.

2. Make sure you include authors' names and the date and page number at the top of the index card. Also, on a separate index card, write down all the bibliography information in the proper form for your reference list or bibliography. This will help you identify footnotes and citations and make typing the references easier.

3. Try to be as accurate as possible when you write down statistics and direct quotations. Be sure to check for errors when you're finished.

4. Include pertinent quotations, but keep in mind that no more than 10 to 15% of your finished paper should be quotations.


The outline is a critical step in the process. Your paper will only be as good as the outline you write for it.

1. Write your introduction at the top of the page. This, essentially, is your "Thesis Statement" expanded to a paragraph. Set up your statement carefully and make sure it matches the material you've gathered.

2. Underneath the introduction, write your first main heading. Write subheadings underneath this heading and list your main points in the paragraph.

3. Take your note cards and decide which of them you will use to illustrate your points. It should look something like this:

Introduction: Expand your thesis here. It should be concise and definite. Don't put opinionated statements like "I think..." or "In my opinion...". This reduces your credibility. For example, if you were to write a paper on the economic factors involved in World War II, you might start like this. Example:

Introduction: Germany's involvement in WW II was predicated by the purposeful dismantling of the country's economic power by the allied nations.

I. Main Heading: This is where you begin to answer the questions you posed in your introduction. Systematically go over each resonant point in your argument. If you are dealing with a historical paper, you might begin with the background and history of your material. Example:

I. Germany's post-war economy.

A. Sub Heading: Here you break down your Main Heading into smaller paragraphs of information. Each paragraph should have a clear, well thought out point. Example:

A. Germany's industrial production.

1. Small Sub Headings: Here write one important idea you want to convey in your paragraph. You can actually tape one of your note cards to your paper or include a small bit of information. Example:

1) Manufacturing of exports.
2) Reisling Company profits down 65 % by 1937.
3) Max Heirch, Co-owner, eventual conspirator.

Continue this format until all information is covered. Individual points should support sub headings, sub headings should support main headings, and all should support the thesis statement.

The last step is your conclusion which should be a final synopsis of the paper; a summary of the thesis statement you started with. When you edit your outline, make sure each point is clearly made and that the flow of the paper works to make a convincing case. By the end of the outline, you should have covered all the main points you posed in your thesis statement.

Rough Draft

Write your first draft as freely as possible, following your outline closely. Use all the note card information that you feel is relevant and important. Don't pad your paper with excessive quotes. When you have finished the rough draft, check for accuracy and completeness of facts. If you think certain sections are too long or too skimpy, rework them until you feel they're the strongest you can make them. Again, seek help from The Writing Center in 1010 JKHB.

Final Draft

Revise paragraphs for unity and coherence. Reword your sentences for effectiveness of structure, grammar and punctuation. Use a dictionary to check your spelling and usage; or if you have a computer, run a spell check. You might want to read the paper aloud to yourself and/or someone else to see how it flows and to correct any awkward sentences.

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