Writing a paper may seem like the hardest part of your semester, but we’re here to turn that mountain into a molehill. Here are a few important things to remember before we dive in.
- We’re assuming nothing. You may already know quite a bit about writing papers, but we’re going to start from square one so you don’t miss anything.
- Everyone has their own process. We’ll cover some of the common methods for writing papers, but feel free to make these methods you own to fit how you work and think.
- You can do this! Remember, mountains to mole-hills.
What is a paper?
In the simplest of terms, a paper is an argument that is written down. In school, your papers are often an attempt to collect research, to assemble it into a coherent argument, and to present it in an academic manner.
Papers are usually ordered in the following manner:
- an introduction including a thesis
- a body that presents supporting evidence
- a conclusion to clarify the point of the paper
- documentation of References or Works Cited.
Some papers - like APA formatted papers - can also require things like Title Pages or Abstracts. While no two papers are exactly alike, almost all of them follow the basic format above.
Steps for Writing a Paper
The process of turning an assignment into a finished paper may seem daunting, but our Paper Plan breaks it down into 13 easy steps. You may find your own unique rhythm to writing papers with time, but using these steps can give you a solid structure for writing an excellent paper with minimal stress.
- Understand your assignment
Always make sure you thoroughly understand what your professor wants with your assignment. If you have any questions, ask your professor. It's better to ask now than to lose points later.
- Research the general topic
Before you pick a specific topic, it's good to know the lay of the land. You may already have quite a bit of general information about your topic from class. But reviewing the basics before setting off on a new paper is time well spent.
- Choose a specific topic
It's vital that you choose a topic that is suitable for the length of your paper. Broad topics don't work well for short papers and overly narrow topics make long papers even harder. However, it's usually more helpful to have a more specific topic than a broader one.
- Draft an initial thesis
Having a clear thesis is a critical part of a successful paper. It should be clear and concise. However, don't be afraid to revise or completely change your thesis as you do your research. A good researcher may change her thesis many times during the writing process.
- Collect quality research materials
Start collecting research materials that pertain to your paper's topic. It's important that you find research material that is the right type for your paper. For research papers, that often means peer-reviewed articles and published works. Your school's librarians are great resources for finding quality research materials.
- Do your research
Taking your initial thesis, go through your Research Materials and take any notes, quotes, or information you'll need in the supporting arguments of your paper. Use the Research Notes section in your paper to create your References and Citations while taking notes to use later on.
- Organize your research
One of the great ways to organize your research and ideas is by creating an Outline. PERRLA Online's Outline Editor makes it easy to give your paper the structure and organization it needs. If it's done early enough, many professors will give you feedback on an outline.
- Write the first draft
Writing the first draft is all about getting your ideas down on paper. So, don't get stuck trying to make it perfect. You can do that later. If you need a little extra guidance, we've got lots of great tips on writing great papers in our Help Center.
- Proofread & Edit
This is your chance to make all of the edits and changes that you didn't make in your first draft. Re-read your paper (out loud, backward, upside-down) and re-work it so that it forms a solid argument from start to finish. This is a great time to try out your school's Writing Center as well.
- Create the final draft
This is the last sweep through the content of your paper. Make sure you've accomplished the goals you set for yourself in your thesis, met all of the paper's requirements, and have everything formatted correctly.
- Check for plagiarism
Plagiarism isn't anyone's friend – accidental or otherwise. Make sure you haven't used a Reference's words or ideas without giving them credit. Submitting your text through a plagiarism service can help ensure you haven't accidentally plagiarized.
- Turn it in!
Here's the finish line! After all your hard work, turn your paper in (using whatever method your professor requests) and do your very best victory dance.