4 Tips to Write a Stress-free Research Paper

When I give presentations to different groups, I often include a slide that lays out what types of tasks are more difficult for college students who struggle with their executive functions. The slide is pretty straightforward. When tasks are newer, more complex, and more long term, they will be more difficult. A research paper hits all those to a T. It will involve a lot of steps, take place over a long period of time, and be about a new topic. Here are a few strategies that students can use to reduce the stress of a research paper, become more efficient, and produce higher quality work.

Reference Form- Students should use a form for each source (article, chapter, book, etc.) that they read and decide to use. Essentially, students should have a graphic organizer to use for each cited work. This should include a formal citation of the source, a summary of what they read, any direct quotations they’d like to use, and other sources that were referenced that they’d like to review. This will help a student organize their thoughts as they are researching. When it comes time to write, all of the information they need from the sources will be prepared and instantly ready to use.

Step-by-Step Deadlines- This will require students to break their paper into much smaller steps and formulate a plan that will allow them to chip away at the paper. Sometimes these research papers can be assigned over an entire semester. If students aren’t organized and managing their time well, they will be left with a disaster at the end of the semester.

Outline, Outline, Outline- Research papers are usually quite long and intense. Once students get through the initial research phase, they need to have an outline that is as detailed as possible. Some students like to just say that they’ll have this section, that section, and another. That won’t work or be efficient. Students should create a very detailed outline several layers down. They also should include which sources will be used in specific sections prior to writing. 

Write with others- Writing is one of the toughest tasks to initiate. If a student has executed the steps so far, they have all their citations cued up, they have a very detailed outline that specifies where each of these sources will be discussed, and they are ready to write. Even with this level of detail, it’s still difficult to DO the writing. Setting up a “writing date” with a friend can really help students push through any procrastination they may be feeling.

Papers can be the largest stressor that a student faces in a semester. There’s really no reason for that. When done correctly, these papers can have plenty of rounds of editing and be turned in early for a much better grade with minimal stress.

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