Writing a research paper may be a new experience for you. You've probably found that the kinds of papers you are being assigned here are different (more difficult, longer, bigger in scope) than the papers you have had to write before.
In our conversations with students at the Harvard University Bureau of Study Counsel, we've learned that there are many places where students can get bogged down in writing. We also have some ideas about how those tough times can be endured and how the problems can be tackled. You will find here an outline of the concerns that may arise for you at each phase of the writing. When you are first- sitting down to think about an assignment, you might find it helpful to take out the following outline and put a check alongside those items on the outline that you find familiar, including those places where you are finding obstacles. Be as honest as you can about all your thoughts and feelings.
Generally, feelings of fear or doubt will not disappear until we get started on this writing project. So how do we get started? You will see that we've broken the task into four different phases:
l. Beginnings (including choosing a topic)
2. Collection/Search (gathering data)
3. Organization (putting the material into order)
4. Writing (communicating your ideas and findings to others)
It's always helpful to spread the task out and set yourself deadlines for each of the different phases of the project. This makes the task more manageable and frees you to take up one piece at a time rather than to feel overwhelmed by the entire project.
As you go over the writing process as we've outlined it, you’ll find we've emphasized how vital it is at each step to keep track of your own thoughts. Who you are and what interests you is a crucial question in choosing your topic. Then, as you collect information, you'll still want to keep alive to your own thoughts on the material. Usually research papers are meant to integrate your own thoughts on a topic with those ideas you've researched from others.
At every phase of the project, it's also important to know what resources are around and where you can go for help. Often a conversation with a tutor, a roommate, a section leader can help in sorting out a snag you're in. There are several places at your school, the University of Puget Sound, where people are especially available to consult with students on writing research papers. (See the following list.)
The counselors at the Center for Writing and Learning
are available to consult with you about these materials and about any aspect
of the writing process.
Problems obstacles places I may get stuck
l. don't know where to start
2. don't know how to begin
3. can't get myself going
4. thinking this has to be original/creative/elegant
5. thinking this can vindicate me for all previous failures
6. thinking I have to have all the answers before I write - can't start unless I know exactly where I'm going
7. afraid to expose my ideas/self/things I care about
8. no interest in the material
9. don't know what "they" want
10. not enough time; can't work under pressure
11. too much time; can only work under pressure
Things I might experience during this phase
l. paralysis, stuckness, inertia
2. fear - can I really do it? how good will it be? good enough?
3. lost - don't know what to do
4. shame - because I don't know what to do
5. worthlessness - because I should be productive, well-organized, etc.
6. vulnerability - going to be judged
7. fury, rage - that they would put me in such an awful spot
8. no self-confidence, no faith that I can do this
9. feel like a novice, a "know-nothing," ignoramus, DUNCE, etc.
10. don't care
11. lonely; I'd rather be with people than sitting here thinking about a paper
Things I can do
l. break down big projects into smaller bite-size pieces
2. have mini-deadlines .
3. start reading (shop around) as a way to help find a topic - ask myself "would I like to do a paper on this?", 0r "how could I turn this into a paper topic?"
4. keep track of what is of interest to me by making a list of questions I have as I go along
5. go back over notes I've made; see what looks interesting
6. make my "fun" topic into something appropriately "rigorous" - ask myself "why did this strike my interest? why was it included in the course?, "where does it fit in?"
7. find someone to talk to (friends, peers, tutors, professors) who may suggest topics or help me sort out my possibilities
8. remember that I won't use in this paper everything I think of or discover. I can save some stuff for future papers
9. be patient with myself, allow myself time to "brainstorm" and explore
l. trouble finding, locating, identifying what I'm looking for
2. too much information
3. not enough information
4. don't know how to sort it all out
5. don't know how to keep it all straight (keeping track)
6. don't know what's important and what's not
7. don't know which sources to use
8. don't know which sources there are
9. forgot where I read such-and-such
10. don't know how to use library
11. in my notes, "should I quote exactly or just paraphrase this part?"
l. losing interest
2. being overwhelmed - depressed or panicky
3. lost in all the data
4. sick of the topic
5. lost, scared
6. can't let go of books; can't stop reading
7. this is too much work, especially with all the other things I have to do
Things I can do
l. remind myself what the course/assignment is all about; what is the
context for this assignment?
2. look under related topics/titles/words for more information (buzz words); talk to a reference librarian
3. talk to other people about my topic - see if I've overlooked something, see if my scope is not too wide, see if I understand the nature of the assignment
4. keep good records, citations of where I got quotes, information, ideas
5. record what author said; record my own thoughts about it (put my own thoughts in brackets or on a separate part of my notes/cards)
6. keep all records in one safe place
7. keep handy my list of interesting ideas/questions/topics
8. keep to my schedule and move on to the next phase even if I am inclined to keep collecting - remember I can always go back to collect here and there if I discover gaps in my material after I start to write
9. begin my own thinking about how all of this seems to relate together
l. got all this data and don't know what to do with it
2. there is no "obvious" principle of organization
3. got lots of data but can't yet see the key idea/king pin that ties it all together
4. got a great idea but don't know how the data fits
1. frustration; lostness; too many little things to see how to begin
2. anxiety about "missing" or not seeing how it all fits together
3. being overwhelmed; sick of the topic; scared that it still doesn't make sense
Things I can do
l. ask myself what stood out for me
2. write what I'd like to say about this topic in one sentence, then one paragraph, then...
3. see if there are any "natural" piles that data fit into
4. sort index cards into piles
5. if stuck, move onto next thing; come back later
6. if really stuck, "free write"
7. realize that several different "papers" exist in this data, there is no One Perfect Paper
8. find someone to talk to (friends, Center for Writing and Learning, etc.) as friendly sounding-board as I think aloud
9. experiment with different slants, different patterns of organization, different outlines, different "chain-link arguments"; remember that everything I write doesn't have to be "for keeps"
l. thinking I must start on page one and write word-by-word, in order,
to the end
2. thinking first words on page must look like a textbook, masterpiece, bestseller
3. feeling I must write whole paper right now
4. thinking "why write to someone who already knows it all?"
5. once I've learned everything, writing it down seems pointless
6. fantasies of writing the "perfect paper," the "last word," that will knock the socks off the teacher
2. burnt-out, spacy, blank
3. insecure, inadequate, my writing is trash
4. now they’ll finally catch on to me, see what a fraud I really am
5. have good days and bad days
6. paralysis, blocking
Things I can do
l. "chunking" - write one section at a time - any section will do, to
2. visualize audience for whom I'm writing; visualize a friendly audience, benign reader
3. recall a benign reader (e.g., your favorite teacher), 0r find a benign reader (friend, colleague, etc.)
4. separate creative hat from editorial hat; try writing first, just to get an idea down on paper, then criticizing or reworking next
5. write one good idea, then another, then another; remember I can't write the whole paper in this one sentence
6. once I've written something, read it aloud
7. find someone to talk to; find someone to read what I've written
People Available to Consult with You About Writing Research Papers
1. Present and past professors: Office Hours or before/after classes
2. Center for Writing and Learning: Howarth 109, 756-3395
Writing Consultant: Dan Corum - C & TA 756-3532, Writing Center 756-3404
Writing Consultant: Julie Neff Lippman 756-3404
3. Reference Librarians:
Peggy Firman Foreign Langs. Liaison 756-3615
Maureen Kelly Reference Coordinator 756-3512
4. Roommates, friends, and colleagues