When writing academic papers for your college classes, you will need to go beyond the basic five-paragraph essays you learned in high school. College writing requires consideration of the how and why questions, and you will need to make your own interpretations about a topic and do research to support your ideas.
The basic process for writing an academic paper is three steps: prewriting, writing, and revision.
Prewriting: Choose your topic and Research
The first basic step when you have an assignment is to choose your topic. In some cases, you will be assigned a topic. If you are allowed to decide on your own topic, choose something that is of interest to you. You will be spending quite a bit of time doing research and writing your paper, which will be easier if you are interested in your topic. Make sure your topic meets the requirements of your assignment, and if you have questions be sure to consult with your instructor. Try to narrow the focus of your topic; if you pick something too general, you will have too much material to go through in your research and difficulty creating a strong argument.
The second prewriting step is conducting your research. If you have never done academic research, be sure to talk with your instructor, a writing tutor, or a librarian for help in starting your process! When searching for sources, break down your topic into the most important key terms to use as keywords in your search. When you find a useful source, you can also check the cited references to find more related research. Consider whether the sources you find are current. Especially in the sciences, in areas such as medicine, you will want to make sure the information is up-to-date.
Once you find relevant sources, go through them, analyzing them as you read to discover major themes and connections. Make notes about important points in each source. (Try this template from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill if you need help getting started.) These notes will come in handy when you build your outline and write your paper.
Writing: Develop a Thesis, Use your Research, and Explain your Interpretation
When writing an academic paper, one of the most important things you will write is your thesis. The thesis has the ability to assert, control, and structure your entire argument. However, different disciplines and different instructors may want slightly different kinds of thesis statements. In general, a good thesis will do the following:
After you develop a strong thesis, you can let your thesis guide you in writing the rest of your paper. Remember to think about the organization and structure of the information you present and to include both evidence to support your claims and explanations of your interpretation of the information.
Revision is more than just fixing errors in your paper. Revising your paper means considering your paper as a whole and deciding if certain sections, or the whole paper, needs to be rethought or rewritten. Thinking about your writing this way is difficult, but will improve your paper and make you a better writer in the long run. When revising your paper, think about these points:
For more help with these steps, consult the resources below or talk to your instructor, a writing tutor at the Academic Resource Center, or a librarian.