Writing Papers

Writing academic papers is, unsurprisingly, a huge part of academia. This task may seem daunting at first, but after some practice, you will find that it's a much easier task than doing the research itself. On this page, we'll help outline a technique for structuring your papers, a historical exercise for developing your writing skills, and some external resources for further reading.

Overview

Begin with a master plan. The first step to writing a paper is not writing. First, you need to think. There are a series of key questions that you should answer before you begin writing your first sentence. What is the key message of my paper? What argument or idea is my paper centralized around? What's the target audience? Who will be reading it, and who will care? How do I structure my argument? What do I have to back it up? When you can answer all of these questions without hesitation or confusion, you're ready to begin.

Set up your structure. You should have a broad idea of the structure of your paper based on the previous point. Maybe you have an experiments section, a results section, a proof section, or a discussion section. What goes in each of these sections? Make your section headers for each of these sections, and subsections, and subsubsections… This will also help you break down the paper into manageable chunks of work, which will make it seem like far less daunting a task.

Fill in more structure. Now that you have your skeleton structure of your paper, let's fill in some more. You should have a pretty good idea of what each section aims to address, but how will you address it? Summarize each of your sections in a paragraph or less. Don't worry about the technical details yet, but you should cover everything you intend to address in the section. Now you have an outline for your paragraphs!

Exercises

Benjamin Franklin Exercise

Benjamin Franklin wasn't always such a well-written fellow —- in fact, in his autobiography, he bemoans his subpar writing skills as a teenager. However, Franklin eventually developed an exercise for himself to improve his writing and critical thinking skills, and this exercise is still often practiced today.

Consider a passage from a reasonably-written source (Franklin himself used the cultural and political magazine The Spectator). First, take notes on this excerpt at a sentence level. Summarize the sentences in your own words. Then, step away for a bit. Then, return to your notes, and - without looking at the originals - try to recreate the original sentences. You might notice that your notes have not captured the full breadth of the original source. Examine your inaccuracies, and repeat the exercise.

External Resources

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