University Writing Center
July 23, 2014

Practical Advice

Start your paper the day it is assigned. Every professor knows that most of their students start writing three days or less before the paper is due. That means that most papers they receive are not polished final papers, but rough drafts. The best way to stand above the crowd, and get a better grade, is to start researching and writing the day the paper is assigned, finish it, put it away, then three days before it’s due, when everyone else is starting their paper, pull yours out and do a final revision. This method requires no more investment in time; it just stretches that investment out over five or six weeks instead of three days.

Outline. While formal outlines are seldom effective invention strategies, a sentence outline can be useful, especially if you focus on developing specific sections or paragraphs using history tropes. Write four or five sentences that cover the main points you want to make in your paper. These sentences then work as “baskets” that

  • provide convenient places to drop information, ideas, research, and arguments during the invention stage;
  • break down the writing task into accessible chunks during the drafting stage;
  • and can be conveniently rearranged during revision.

A sentence outline is particularly useful to offset writer’s block. Students who are traumatized by the idea of writing a ten-page research paper often feel confident when writing a two or three-page paper. With a sentence outline, the writer doesn’t have to write a 10-page paper; each sentence in the outline can be used as a heading for a single 2 to 3-page paper. Thus, instead of facing the task of completing a 10-page paper, you would face the less psychologically daunting task for completing four mini 2 to 3 page papers. These papers can then be connected. The easiest, and often most effective, connection strategy is to simply use the sentences from your outline as subheadings for the paper itself.

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