Coursework writing tips - how to start the paper

Jun 09, 2013
College is much more difficult than high school, and so is the coursework involved. For most, the freedom of college is the best part, no one standing over your shoulder, monitoring your every step, but for others, that can be a recipe for disaster. When you begin college there is going to be no one standing over you making sure that you complete your work, you are on your own. That is both good and bad. It allows you to work on things when you have the time, but it also means that you are ultimately responsible for getting things done.
The key to any assignment is applying the right amount of time and work to it that it requires. Many college students make the mistake of not allocating enough time to work on their coursework. By waiting until the last minute to start a paper or assignment, it will often leave you in a panic, to not only finish the paper, but to choose a topic. Since the topic of a paper is as important as the content of it, taking time to pick the right one will set the tone for the quality of the work overall.

Choosing a topic

The hardest part of any task sometimes is just getting started. A college level paper is no different. The topic that you choose will set the tone for the entire work, and point you in the direction of where to find your information, how to organize the paper, and how to finish it. The best way to get started is to first pick a topic. When choosing a topic:
  • Make sure that there is enough information about it
  • It is interesting and fits the parameters of the assignment
  • It is current and relative to the subject matter
  • You have clearly defined the title and subject matter

Have clarification about the assignment

When you are ready to sit down and begin writing your paper, the very last thing you want to encounter is the inability to start because you have a question which interferes with you beginning the project. It is important well before you begin writing to clarify, and understand, what is being asked of you. Once you have set the night aside and are ready to begin, it will be too late to contact the professor to get an answer to your questions about what needs to be done.

First things first

If your paper needs research, have it done ahead of time. When you finally sit down to write the paper, you want to have all the research necessary completed, and at your fingertips. You don't want to begin a paper by writing than finding the information, you should have it all done ahead of time so that writing the paper is really about piecing the information together and making the necessary connections.

Putting time aside

When you are starting a paper it is important to physically put the time aside. There are many of us who are procrastinators who will continue to think about what needs to be done, and perhaps think about the steps that need to be taken. Taking the steps to sit down, at a computer, and begin typing must be done sooner than later. Although you may think that you have it all laid out and ready to go, until you put words to paper, you won't have an idea of what it is going to take to begin, or to complete.

Finding the right place to concentrate

Not only is it important to sit down, it is important to find a place to sit down. Many dorm rooms, or meeting rooms are simply too loud and distracting to get things done. Getting started is hard enough, with constant reasons for avoidance, interaction, or distractions, committing the time is near impossible. Choosing a quiet place like the library is the best way to hone in on what needs to be done without temptation.

Set aside an evening to get started

You most likely will not be able to finish the paper in just one evening, but you have to start somewhere. Beginning by setting aside an evening to sit down and start is important to convincing yourself to concentrate. When setting aside an evening:
  • Tell your friends you will be unavailable
  • Go to a specific place to begin
  • Leave your cell phone and other devices behind
  • Eat enough before leaving that you won't have the excuse of being hungry

Making an outline

The second most important step to starting a paper is developing an outline. An outline is a general guide to how the paper is going to be formatted, the information that will be contained within it, and how you are going to lay the content out. Depending on the type of paper that is being assigned, making an outline that is specific will not only make sure that you have provided the appropriate information and material, but that you are staying on task, and have a beginning, a middle and an end. When formulating an outline:
  • Come up with a thesis statement, or point of the paper
  • Present the steps that need to be taken to support that thesis, or point
  • Include the major points, or arguments
  • Conclusion, including a summary and then support statement

Just get started

Sometimes the hardest part of writing a paper is getting started. Having all the pieces ready to go when you are ready to begin is the best way to focus on the actual writing and avoid procrastination, or the temptation to put it off another day. Being able to manage your time can best be done by beginning the project and then estimating. If you wait until the last minute to do it all, you will not produce the best work possible. Taking the steps to have all the components together before sitting down to write, will make the writing experience easy and fluid.
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