Saturday, November 17, 2007

Writing Papers (For Tim!)

I was just going to reply to Tim's comment with another comment--and then I decided that it would generate a post for today, so here are my possibly fallacious tips for writing a good paper.
  • Edit. Edit. Then edit some more. This is the lesson I learned when we edited the paper a total of three times, not counting all the edits we did to it in the prior class for which the paper was written.
  • Edit by reading it out loud. Yep, you'll catch all sorts of fun things by reading it out loud.
  • Edit by handing it off to someone you trust to offer good, constructive criticism. And not someone who just looks at it and says, "Oh, it's so good." You want a nitpicker. I'm a nitpicker, so I'm a good editor like this.
  • But before all the revision and editing you have to write the damn thing, which means coming up with an idea. I talk out ideas with people who sort of care, write them out on my blog/journal, and outline to see if I can flesh out the idea. Do most research after you come up with an idea (it makes you feel good if your ideas are supported by the research you find). And even if someone else had your idea already, you may still be able to offer a new angle.
  • Don't be afraid to change your original idea if you start writing and find that it doesn't work. It's almost inevitable that the paper you start writing is not the one you finish writing, and that's usually good.
  • Don't stick with a sinking ship--if it's not working, abandon it and use the driftwood to construct a new boat.
  • Writing is hard work. I find that if I can just sit down and concentrate for a few hours, I can knock it out. The earlier the initial drafting is done, the better because...
  • You should leave yourself time to set it aside so that you can come to the edits fresh faced. Because revision is key. Revise, edit, revise, proofread and revise. Very important. I usually fail at this step, though...but I try to leave myself enough time to set it aside for a day or two.

I hope that helps Tim! Go forth with enthusiasm and courage, and don't be afraid to have an idea. Run with it and see where it takes you--and if you need someone to edit anything, feel free to ask me! I've read your writing and I know it's good. First seminar papers can be so frightening (I was terrified when I turned in my first grad school paper), but don't let that fear show up in your writing--fake confidence until you forget you aren't. Good luck!


Timothy said...

thanks so much! for this paper, i began my research before i had a close reading of the play (macbeth), so i wasted a lot of time pouring over books i'm not going to use. but oh well. now i have my close reading. i just have to start writing!

Justin Ray said...

It depressed me as a TA to see students who tried out an idea, couldn't make it work, but then kept churning out words to meet the minimum wordcount anyway. Those were the papers that made me want to tear my eyeballs out before finishing--I was obligated to edit them line for line, but then I told them to throw most of it out or start over anyway.