Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Planning Your Paper


Planning can make the difference between writing a paper that’s just okay and one that you’re really to turn in.

This page will take you through the key steps of writing a paper and will show you how much effective planning can help you. It will also show you some tools that can help you stay on track.

Word or page limit

Paper lengths can vary greatly. Knowing your page limit is vital to the planning process because it givers you some indication of the amount of time you will spend researching, the degree of detail that is required and how much time you will spend writing.

Step 1: Start with a list of themes and ideas you want to cover in your paper.

Step 2: Group the themes into sections. This will give you an idea about how your paper will take shape and it may help you see more clearly what you definitely do and don’t want to cover when you start writing.

Step 3: Estimate an approximate word or paragraph count for each theme to make sure that you meet the minimum word or page requirement. These numbers will probably change as you go along but it will give you a rough idea about the length of your paper.

As your reading, research and note-taking progresses, your themes will develop in your notes and you’ll see each section of your paper more clearly.

Due Date

Keep your paper’s due date in mind. Find out if you will have to turn an outline or a first draft sooner than the paper’s due date.

Think about each stage of the writing process (this is not an exhaustive list)and approximate how long each stage will last:

  1. Initial searching, reading and research (taking notes)
  2. Topic development
  3. Literature review
  4. More research, if needed
  5. Reference/resource management
  6. Data collection
  7. Writing
  8. Proofing and rewriting
  9. Printing

Paper Format

Make sure you know what style (AMA, APA, MLA, Chicago/Turablian or Harvard) you are supposed to use.

Using MLA Format by Purdue’s OWL

Using APA Format by Purdue’s OWL

Son of Citation Machine by David Warlick of The Landmark Project

Tools for handling your references and other source material

Decide on a system for keeping track of your references and other source material. The low-tech way to keep track of your sources is using 3×5 or 4×6 index cards. Use one card per source consulted.

Note the source’s bibliographic information on the top of the card so you’ll have the information ready when you need to cite the source in your bibliography. Make your notes on the rest of the card.

There are lots of great tips on keeping organized on UCLA’s Tutorial Avoiding Disaster: Eddie Gets Organized!

You can make a research template using any word processing program that uses tables.  We found some ideas of sample templates to track your research:

Time management

Using an online planner or large desktop calendar can really help you stay on track.

Other tips on Time management can be found here.

5 Apps That Can Help Students Manage College Life

Answers to these questions

If you cannot answer some of these questions, Check your syllabus. Instructors usually provide a wealth of information on the syllabus. The details about the assignment may also be on BlackBoard.