April 1, 2021

Coming to Terms with Term Papers

Have you ever experienced that roller-coaster feeling while writing a paper?
woman typing

Have you ever experienced that roller-coaster feeling while writing a paper? The continuous up and down of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with your own writing that leaves you second guessing your choices? At one moment, you might be elated with a perfectly worded phrase only to look at it a few moments later and ask “what was I thinking?”

Fear not! There are ways to make this ride run more smoothly:

  1. Give yourself enough time – If you’re new to writing at a university level and are uncertain about the process, it can be tempting to procrastinate.  Review the assignment sheet early to consider what is being asked of you, what type of external resources you might need, and how much time you have to complete the paper. These details will be important to help you plan your time wisely.

A nifty tool to get you started is the assignment tracker, which helps you break down the writing process based on the type of assignment. It not only tells you what steps are involved in a given paper, but also provides estimates for how long each step will take.

  1. Embrace the process – Using different strategies will help you work through the various stages of writing and may depend on the type of paper you are writing as well as your personal writing style. While some people find they can’t start writing until their outline is in place, others thrive on free writing to get their thoughts on paper and worry about organizing them later.

Remember: It’s okay to break free from the five-paragraph structure that you might be familiar with because you will be asked to write more extensively about topics than you have before. Since university writing often requires more in-depth analysis, one idea may take several paragraphs to fully develop.

  1. Consider how you engage with resources – Sometimes university writing can feel like you are just repeating the ideas of others from your research. However, your paper is not only about the commentary you make on others’ arguments, but also the way in which you arrange those thoughts to create something unique.

Using your discipline’s citation language to track other authors is a critical part of this process (MLA, APA, IEEE and others can be found among our writing resources). You may also find it helpful to use a citation management software, such as Mendeley (there are plenty of guides and workshops to help you with this software!).

  1. Give yourself some distance – When you spend a lot of time working on a paper, it’s easy to get lost in your own writing. Small errors, missing connections between ideas, and assumed knowledge may go unnoticed as you read the same paragraph yet another time. When you allow yourself time to step away from your writing and come back to it with fresh eyes, it is often easier to find these errors before the professor does. Another helpful tip is to read the paper out loud. This will help you identify lengthy sentences, awkward phrases, or repeated ideas.

For more support, consider booking with a writing tutor (online appointments are still available!). This will give you the opportunity to get further insight on the writing process…a second set of eyes never hurts!