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Researching and Writing a Paper: Writing and Formatting your paper

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

Just as there are steps to deciding what to write and to preparing to research a paper there are steps to writing a paper.

  1. Open a blank document and format it in the way that your instructor described in the assignment. (If you prefer you can format your paper after you write it, but I have found it easier to format the paper first, write the outline (see next step), and then fill in the outline with sentences and paragraphs.)
    APA Formatting, MLA Formatting.

  2. Write an outline. Your paper is supposed to be a certain number of words or pages long, an outline is how you plan what you are going to write in each part of the paper. Creating an outline for writing your paper is similar to creating an outline for note-taking, the difference is that in a writing outline you are describing the information that needs to be in your paper and how it needs to be organized, in a 'note-taking outline' you are describing the information you found in an article and how it was organized. Similarly with using a mind-map for writing, one describes what was created by someone else, the other describes what you will create - and in what order.
    (One mistake that many new students and new writers make is that they try to cover everything that needs to be in the paper all at once. An outline enables you to be sure that you will cover everything you need to cover, and it enables you to 'tell that story' in a logical and understandable way. Outlines also reduce writing stress because you are focusing on only one part of the paper at a time.)

  3. Fill in the outline. Each section of your outline will become a section of your paper. Depending on how detailed your outline is, when you 'fill in' an outline you are writing between one sentence and several paragraphs that are explaining and analyzing a particularly important idea or fact from one (or some) of the sources you have found - and only those important idea(s) or fact(s) from that source or sources - and then going onto the next section where you write about another subtopic of your paper, and only that subtopic. Explain what the information is (generally the first sentence or paragraph in that section), why it is important for your paper (often the next sentence or paragraph), and how it connects to other information (frequently the last sentence or paragraph in that section).
    Note: Sometimes one sentence or paragraph for explaining, another for importance, and another for connections is enough, sometimes two sentences or paragraphs are needed, and so on. How long each section is depends on how much information you need to explain and analyze. [The 'suggested length' or 'minimum length' in your assignment description tells you how much detail and context you need to provide. A ten page paper often contains twice as much information and discussion as a five page paper, but a ten page paper might be easier to write because you can tell your reader more about the facts and ideas you found in your research.]

  4. Check the details. Is the format of your paper correct? Do the sentences and paragraphs cover what they need to cover? Did you say everything that you wanted/needed to say? Is your spelling, punctuation, and grammar, correct? Are your citations correct? Eat a healthy meal and get a good night's sleep, then reread the paper the next day when you are well-rested. If you have read your assignment twice or more, read most of this LibGuide, thought about what is written here, and used that information to write your paper the way that you think you should there is a good chance that you will be happy, even proud, with the paper that you hand in.