Writing college research papers, despite what many believe, is actually an exercise in the fine art of procrastination (or as I like to call it, ‘Minimal Effort With Maximum Efficiency’). But heed my words – before you put off reading this article – for I have knowledge to be shared. I studied for ten years in a Tibetan monastery with the masters of an ancient form of procrastination, and it was actually a three-hour course. Not only that, the deadline for this paper was the day before I left. Now you know my power.
The foolproof method for writing papers with that ‘procrastinatory’ flair is simple – start off with an outline. Peering into the foggy depths of the past, you’ll remember them as a collection of labeled boxes (‘introduction’… ‘thesis’… ‘body paragraphs’… ‘conclusion’) that your high school teacher made you write for a grade. The monks taught me that true procrastination actually requires a bit of initiative, so you’ll want to start this relatively early – as soon as you choose a topic and a thesis. The toughest part of writing a paper right before it’s due is having to organize your thoughts into a coherent framework, so this is something you’ll want to do soon to make the best use of the remaining three hours you have to write the paper before it’s due. The sooner you have an outline, the more concrete will be your understanding of how you want your paper to flow conceptually from beginning to end.
The number and style of body paragraphs will vary according to your thesis. The high school style with three overarching body paragraphs doesn’t apply here. For the nuanced points you’re expected to make with research papers, form becomes secondary to substance, and your paper doesn’t want to be pretty. It doesn’t want to be a butterfly that flutters around your points like they were flower petals. It wants to be a snarling literary cheetah that eviscerates its topic with ease and predatory grace. So use as many paragraphs as you need (try to keep them at least five sentences long, though) and avoid being wordy – it’ll make the paper easier to read, and the professor will appreciate it.
To achieve this, the ranking system comes into play. Identify the major points you’re trying to make, and then the auxiliary points that need to be understood for the strong points to make sense. Then identify the sub-points of each major point. Assume each major, sub-, and auxiliary point will have its own paragraph. This will make the paper extremely easy to write. Now rank the sub-points and auxiliary points on a scale of 1-5, depending on how they relate to the major points. If a 5 indicates a ‘very strong’ relation, then give 4-5 rankings their own paragraphs, and 2-3 rankings a few sentences within other paragraphs. I delegate to the 1 rankings the ignominious role of ‘footnote’.
(Keep in mind that your major point paragraphs are being explained through the sub-point paragraphs. The major points are introduced in their own paragraphs and expounded on in the subsequent ones, so you don’t want a huge paragraph and a bunch of tiny little ones. Also, interspersing lengthy paragraphs with shorter ones improves readability as well.)
For added preparation (this kind of initiative goes against the teachings, but I’ll admit it will make things easier), you might want to write the introduction paragraph as soon as you can. You probably won’t need research for it, and since it lays the logical groundwork for the rest of the paper, and it’s easier to keep the thesis in mind when it’s in print, the task will definitely be made easier by getting it done. You can then print out your introduction and use that for an advanced outline. You might even want to write the opening sentences of your major point paragraphs. But that goes against the teachings.
THE REASON WHY YOUR PAPER ISN’T BEING FOLDED UP FOR A MAKESHIFT COASTER
Part of why research papers are considered so onerous is because the student typically does enough research to write three papers’ worth and only uses a fraction of it for the final product. The trick to avoiding all this excess is to do research on the research you’ll need. Again, this will rely on your strong thesis, so make sure the points you want to make are crystal clear. Thanks to the magical gnomes living inside our computers that run the internet, doing research has become exponentially easier and diminishes library-time. Chances are somebody’s done a study on the same topic you’re writing on that isn’t in your local library, anyway. If they’re a credible source, don’t be afraid to use them as a reference – just don’t over-embellish their authority.
Research books, articles, or academic papers that pertain to your points. Use the ranking system again. For the 4-5s, take them out of the library, if you can’t get the necessary text online. You might want to photocopy the pages you need so that you won’t need to flip through mountainous tomes when hunting for a particular quote. For the 2-3s, research the gist of what they discuss, but to read/photocopy parts of them is up to your discretion (if you’re a true procrastinator like me, you’ll find a way around it). Forget about the 1s. Why eat a hamburger when you can eat a steak?
If your research paper is taking a stance on a topic in which there are opposing views, you’ll want to do some research on the opposition so you can counter their points. For the same ranking system, only use the 4-5s. You want to address their points, but you don’t want to include so much of their text that their logic begins to outweigh yours. Trust me; being on the stupid end of your own argument is not a happy place to be.
Coffee, a cleared schedule (it had to come sometime), and the possibility of a mid-writing nap will win the day. Since you have everything organized, the only thing that remains is the grunt work. Just chew through it and digest your way to victory!
As an overview:
– Organize your thoughts into an outline. This might take upwards of an hour and a half depending on how clear your thesis is, and how familiar you are with the topic. This is where the bulk of the conceptualization takes place, and it can be a pain. But getting it done earns you at least a few days or even weeks of downtime, depending on when your deadline ends.
Ceiling time: 3 hours
– Research the research you’ll need, and this way when you understand its context, you’ll only need to skim it to find quotes. You’ll actually spend more time researching the research than you will reading the source material (unless you inadvertently find it interesting). Finding quotes is even easier if your sources are direct interviews.
Ceiling time (depending on research): 2.5 hours
– Executing the actual paper shouldn’t take long, since you’ve done preparation. The battle will be long but victory is assured.
Ceiling time (depending on typing speed): 5 hours
Note: These ceiling times indicate the most time you’ll need to get the job done. I’m using these estimates for a fifteen page paper. They might vary according to paper length. As for revising your work? It’s recommended, but not required. Ceiling time: as long as you want, but since you’ve probably stopped giving a damn, just give it a half hour and taunt the Lords of Academia by taking a celebratory nap an hour before your deadline. Aha!