How I write papers

Everyone has a different approach to writing, and I would like to share my own process for writing papers, articles, blog posts, and essays. Whether you have or haven’t already perfected a system for approaching papers, this post merely provides my personal perspective. Here’s how to write papers, bunny style:

Disclaimer: This method only works if you have ample time to edit your paper. If you’re taking an essay exam, throw this method out the window and draft an outline before writing anything.  

1. Word vomit mode. After you choose a topic, stare down that blank page and start writing everything that pops up in your stream of consciousness. Hold back nothing, even if it’s “I have no clue where this is going.” If the paper assignment is five pages, throw in at least three or four pages of semi-coherent or coherent thoughts and collections of quotations you might need from any sources. Many people skip this step, unable to bear seeing anything less than perfect on the page. But if you’re a visual learner, you’ll be able to process your paper as you see it evolve. Don’t worry about writing a few crappy phrases. You don’t have to show anyone your paper while it’s in word vomit mode.

2. Mopping up, janitor mode. When you have enough material, look it over with a closer eye. Notice any patterns or organizational structures, and group your thoughts however they logically fit. If you spot a good argument, grant it its own paragraph. If two quotations seem right for each other, let them be together. Here you should see the basic skeleton of your paper coming together. Your thesis statement should emerge gradually as you figure out your main ideas.

3. Alchemy. It’s time to turn base metals into gold by expanding on ideas that seem promising. This step requires the most time and energy. Find your best arguments and explain every bit of evidence you can use to support them. Solidify paragraphs by fixing sentences that don’t make sense. Purge lines that don’t seem to fit your thesis. If you’re sentimental about your rejected sentences, keep them in a document called “Good but Questionable Lines” (mine has already accumulated many years of sub par sentences from random essays and papers). It also helps to print out drafts and scrutinize them with a pen. Make sure that all arguments are logical and that paragraph transitions flow naturally.

4. Proofreading and final inspection: Almost done. Scour through the text, fix every grammatical error, and ensure that no speck of dust remains to dirty up your pristine paper. Pay attention to weak lines that could benefit from an upgrade in word choice or phrasing. Inspect everything thoroughly before you send anything to the printer.

So why do I recommend that you start writing without a thesis or any of those outlines teachers usually make us turn in?

In my experience, struggling to craft a statement that is supposed to magically provide my paper with direction can lead to paralysis and writer’s block. By allowing the thesis to emerge from body paragraphs instead of forcing the paragraphs to fit under a blanket statement, the thesis will naturally reflect the contents of your paper. You will also give your paper the freedom to grow in whatever direction your arguments and supporting evidence decide to go.

How do you write your papers? Do you use methods you’ve learned in school, or have you come up with your own?


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