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Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
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Writing Papers

I've talked a lot about writing drama, but I get asked a lot about writing research papers and dissertations. 

Anytime you're writing a formal paper, there are a few tricks that might help you speed up the process and communicate more effectively.  I'm going to talk about basic paper writing, but the concept applies to dissertations and larger works as well.

Here are some tips:

1.  Know you're organization.   The majority of papers follow this structure:

a.  State what the paper is about - this usually includes a point of view on the subject - and hint at a few reasons why you think this.

b.  Break down those reasons and back them up with evidence. (This will be the bulk of your paper.  Normally you'll have 3 different reasons supported each by 3 pieces of evidence.)

c.  Conclude by summing up your evidence and restating your point of view as a now proven fact.

2.  Fill in the blanks.   Seems pretty straight forward?   It is.  But for some reason people don't think of organizing it this way.  When I was in college I actually made a "form" that I printed out for people who were having a hard time with papers and all they needed to do was "fill in the blanks"   For many research papers, the rules are very clear.  If they're not, you can default to a standard form.   Basically, all you need are three ideas which support your point of view and then three pieces of evidence which support that idea.   So, all you need to do is fine 9 pieces of evidence and your paper is practically done.   When you think of it that way, it's not nearly as intimidating. 

3.  You don't need to have your point of view first.   For some reason student drive themselves crazy trying to hunt down evidence to support their point of view.   A much simpler approach is to collect your observations first and then sort them out and then create a point of view from those observations.   You may end up looking at like 30 pieces of evidence when you only need 9 - but that's fine - just start grouping them together and see what you see.   You may end up coming up with a much more original point of view if you let the material guide you.  Generally you will know if you need to write a compare / contrast paper, and argument paper, or a paper that talks about the significance of a person or thing.  Whatever it is - that will guide you as to what types of information you'll gather.  The key being - gather first, then sort them, then draw your conclusions from there.   Because then you're practically done already.

Those are the major structural tips.

As for the style of writing, I would encourage everyone to just keep it simple.   Students especially will try to make fireworks with overly verbose sentences.   This is not going to impress anyone.  Professors and Student Teachers, like most people,  are going to be most impressed with a clearly stated idea.  

If you want to add zing to your writing, do it by adding rhythm to the sentence structures, but keep the sentences themselves very clear and simple.   To add rhythm, vary your sentence length and style.  Use a semi-coloned sentence, then follow with a short five word sentence.   Then - something else.  This will help avoid reading monotony. 

But mostly - engage your reader by stating your ideas clearly and simply.

Hope this helps someone.

about 15 years ago 0 likes  8 comments  0 shares


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April 13, 2007