How to write a paper

Sometimes you want to do a good job on a paper because it’s for your favorite professor, and it’s the first paper of the semester. So, when you get the prompt for the first essay, you

STEP 1: Have a small panic attack. It’s not a long paper, and the prompt is straightforward. There is nothing here that would logically induce such a response. But since you already feel the pressure, you just have a small breakdown. Then you

STEP 2: Get over it. And you

STEP 3: Start re-reading the dense animal rights and utilitarianism articles needed to write the paper adequately. You underline things and make small guttural noises of agreement and disapproval in the back of your throat when appropriate. And you write things in the margins like buzzwords and just because it’s absurd doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it. Then you

STEP 4: Go over all your notes from the articles and start to formulate a thesis. Write it in plain English, nothing fancy. Write it in a way that when you go back later to start actually writing the body of the paper, you’ll see things that make sense. Then you

STEP 5: Write out some sentences that are jam-packed with content. It doesn’t matter if they’re run-ons or if the ideas in the sentences need unpacking. As long as you can unpack them later, feel free to leave the sentence incoherent and jumbly.

STEP 6: Eat a calzone and take a little break. Actually, do that a few times throughout the process. Don’t do it all in one sitting. Drink some water, call your sister, and then

STEP 7: Start typing out the ideas from your notes, starting with your thesis (that will change later when we revise… don’t worry, it’s supposed to). Follow that up by unpacking all those ideas you jumbled out on the paper. Keep going until you get it all out. Then

STEP 8: Formulate a conclusion based on everything you’ve just written. Go back and read through your brilliant material  to get an idea of what the heck you just wrote about. Believe me, it’s harder than you think to remember it all once you’ve spewed it out in typing mode. Conclude, then

STEP 9: Revisit your thesis. Hello, old friend. We missed you while we were drawing conclusions down there. Oh boy, we didn’t actually talk about this in our essay. Did we need to? Oh, we didn’t? Well, what did we actually talk about? Oh. Let’s put that in our thesis. Once your thesis is actually about what your paper is about, then

STEP 10: Have a revision party! Invite the grammar rules and George Orwell’s rules for writing to the party. Visit every line and spread the cheer of making them clearer and more active. It’s your last hurrah before turning in this draft, so make it a good one.

And that, dear friends, is how papers come to be.


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