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Get into the library or database, find your sources, take your notes, and then get to writing.“It’s impossible to figure out every detail of your argument before you sit down, look at your sources, and actually try to write.
Most students abandon their hierarchical outline soon after their fingers hit the keyboard.”– Cal Newport, “How to Use a Flat Outline to Write Outstanding Papers, Fast”Ever since I learned the traditional method of outlining papers in 8th grade, I felt the system was broken.
Best case scenario, the professor is nice and lets you rewrite it, but why do all that extra work?
Furthermore, asking the professor for clarification shows initiative–that you care about the assignment.
As frustrating as those activities can be, they always seemed more finite than the monumental task of “writing a paper.” You can’t just open the book and start working: you have to brainstorm, research, outline, draft, edit, and add those pesky citations.
As I moved through college, however, I developed a system for cranking out papers in record time.Students would spend hours researching and writing a paper on a completely different topic than what the professor assigned.It doesn’t matter how good a paper is–if it doesn’t answer the question, it’s going to receive a bad grade.Spending any more time than this puts you at a point of diminishing returns. If you find that you need more info after you start writing, you can always do more research.The goal of your initial research session is to give you just enough material to start writing.If the assignment seems vague, it’s not because the professor is trying to trip you up.Often, it’s that they know their field so well that it’s easy for them to think some things are “obvious”…even when they aren’t to us non-experts. Even as someone who basically writes papers for a living these days (like this article), I still viewed every college paper with a tinge of dread.After all, writing a paper isn’t like working math problems or reading a chapter of a book.Starting in college, I developed my own outlining technique that was much more effective.As it turns out, my technique wasn’t so original after all.