It’s that time. Syllabi were handed out and you saw the MAJOR PAPER: 50% OF FINAL GRADE notice on it. While it might be one of the last assignments due, don’t put it off. A major research paper needs to be taken in chunks, spread out over the allotted time.
Last spring I tackled my master’s research paper, the final part of my MLIS program. It was the most complicated paper I’ve ever written and took an entire academic year from start to finish. Here are some of the ways I made it through with a successful paper and my sanity intact.
If your paper is due at the beginning of December, start brainstorming potential topics in September. Even if you can only devote a little time to it among your other obligations, that is less work you’ll have to do later in the semester.
Use the available resources
Your college library is so much more than a place to escape your roommate. Utilize it during both your research and your actual writing. Use its online resources, including databases and writing tips. If you need more personalized help, talk to the librarians. They have years of training and experience in research.
Seriously, trust me. I can tell you exactly how many years of training it takes to be a librarian. Use them. They know their stuff.
Use good information literacy
Remember in middle school when you started doing research papers and your teachers told you not to trust Wikipedia? You need to be wary of your sources while doing research. Stick to professional sources and make sure your sources are both accurate and up to date. Again, your librarians can help you with that.
There’s always going to be another source you can explore. But if you spend all your time researching, you’ll run out of time to write. Your professor isn’t going to see your research notes, they’re going to see your final copy. So do your research, but don’t get too bogged down in the details.
Get yourself completely organized before you start writing. Start with a broad outline of all your paper sections, then make a smaller, more detailed outline for each part. This will give you a map that will prove invaluable when you’re halfway through your paper and actually know where you’re going.
Have multiple readers
Before you hand in your paper, have at least two people read it. Ideally, get one person who knows the topic and one who does not. The person who knows the topic can cover the accuracy of your material while the person outside your field can make sure your writing is understandable and approachable. Accuracy and readability are both extremely important to your final result.
When it’s done, let it go
As with the research, there will always be things in the writing that can be changed. But you need to let it go once it’s done. Hand that beast in, then go celebrate a job well done!