Research papers are one of the most time-consuming parts of school. In this post, I’ll walk you through a method I created to transform your teacher’s writing prompt into a A+ paper with less time, anxiety, and frustration.
When I went back to school after 10 years as an entrepreneur, my patience for writing research papers was limited. As an entrepreneur, I’d learned to work smarter, not harder. Applying my entrepreneurial energy to research paper writing, I developed a way to rethink how to start writing a research paper. This paper writing hack was inspired by the creativity and necessity of working efficiently as a business owner. These tricks helped me to write research papers as efficiently as possible.
You DON’T have to face a blank page! Instead, this quick research paper writing hack builds step-by-step using a teacher’s own assignment as a tool to jumpstart your outline.
This method breaks down the research paper into simple steps that build off of the instructions that your instructor provides. Using the teacher’s own work, this method uses their instructions to springboard you into the writing process. Paired with tips from my Hacks for Getting Started Paper Writing you’ll be off and running on an excellent paper in no time. While I’m not sure if it technically qualifies as a research paper writing hack, it definitely saved me many hours in the process of writing academic research papers.
Follow along to find out how to start writing a research paper with a faster, easier method.
1. Split Rubric Into Bullets
Teachers are actually pretty good at telling you exactly what your outline should be. They often give you the exact outline of a great paper, if you look closely.
Begin with your instructor’s writing prompt or grading rubric. Break down the sentence into bullet points.
If a prompt is written like:
“Utilizing the tenants of “theory X,” describe how “subject of paper” works, and address aspects A, B, C, and D.”
To start, just use list formatting to turn the instructor’s prompt into a bulleted outline:
- How the Thing Works:
- Aspect A.
- Aspect B.
- Aspect C.
- Aspect D.
Now that you have an outline, it’s time to write a thesis. But don’t worry- it’s way easier than it sounds.
2. Write one-sentence
Now, write one sentence that says “I’m gonna write about [things I just bullet-pointed]”
Congrats- you just wrote a thesis! Your thesis can be clunky, it can be terrible, it can be run-on. Just write something. Make a roadmap with words.
You can change your thesis later.
The magic trick for an acceptable academic thesis? Just say: “this paper will address ______.”
Heres a simple example I use to start writing an academic paper:
X is a thing, this paper will describe X, explain how X works, and then address aspects A, B, C, and D.
3. Use Voice to Text for Faster Citations
Locating, organizing, and transcribing sources can be the hardest part of writing a research paper.
My hack for speeding up this part of the research paper writing process? Use the voice to text feature on a smartphone. Instead of clunky transcribing, just keep your phone on while you skim potential resources.
When you reach a sentence you feel like you might be able to use, read it aloud to your phone. By using your phone, you can quickly transcribe quotes from books or studies to your research paper in one step.
(Write a lot of papers? Upgrading your hardware results in cleaner results that require less editing. I use a Movo Conference Microphone and voice recognition software to write most of my papers and blog posts.)
4. Format Your Quotes & Add a Reference Page
Next, drop your dictated quotes into the doc where you are writing your paper. Format your quotes as needed to the style assigned (APA, Chicago Style, MLA, etc) and then paste them below (not in, yet) the outline.
Add a reference page quickly without the tedious work of transcribing reference data by using a website called WorldCat.org– There you can look up any book, movie, or audio and download the citation in the format you need.
5. Now, Sprinkle some thoughts into the outline.
Next, inspired by the sources you just read, begin to free-write under each of the points.
If your professor has provided a complex rubric, you can write the first sentence under each bullet by turning that requirement into a statement. If the prompt says” “address aspect A” you can start your sentence with: “It’s important to consider the impacts of aspect A, some of these impacts are…“
Free associate as you have ideas, let ideas flow, and don’t stop to cite. I know, I know. But trust me. When you are in writing mode, don’t stop writing. Instead, if you type something you know you need to cite, just pop in a placeholder- I coach students to simply type “CITE” in all caps to remind them to cite a source in that place in a later revision.
6. Paste relevant quotes under outline headers.
Now that your paper is coming along and turning into something with a bit of a paper–like form, it’s time to add some quick quotes. Don’t worry about forming complete sentences, just copy and paste appropriate quotes from the chunk of quotes into relevant sections of the bulleted outline.
7. Now, Fill out the Outline.
Once you’ve got some thoughts and some quotes sprinkled into your bulleted outline, start adding more text as needed.
It can be helpful to pretend each point is an essay question and you are writing a 3 sentence essay for each header.
8. Now, Remove bullet points
Once you’ve got a series of mini-essays with some quotes sprinkled in, it’s time to turn this bulleted outline into something resembling a paper.
Remove the bullet points and any unnecessary headers.
9. Make sure all CITE placeholders are properly cited
Did you use “CITE” as a shorthand way to mark a statement that you need to return and cite later? Use “Find” to locate any remaining citation markers.
10. Add transition statements
Now, Do a quick read of your paper, adding simple filler sentences to transition between sections. For example: “now that I have discussed aspect A it’s important to also consider aspect B.”
11. Revise Thesis
Go back to the introduction and replace that clunky thesis with a sentence describing the paper you just wrote.
It might be pretty similar to your original draft thesis or completely different- That’s okay as long as it summarizes what you wrote and hits on all of the requirements that your teacher asked for in the paper.
12. Rewrite Thesis as a Conclusion
Now skip to the bottom of your paper and rewrite your thesis in the past tense, i.e. instead of “this paper will,” say “this paper has.”
It’s inelegant, but acceptable (and even encouraged) for academic papers to mirror the introduction in the conclusion.
Bonus: Edit for Formatting, Grammar, and Citations.
Do a final reading to make sure the paper fits together and hits all the points required. Finally, double-check your citations and formatting.
Turn it In!
Turn that bad boy in! Not only did you overcome procrastination and finally start writing a paper, you did the whole thing! You just wrote an entire academic research paper!
Did this trick save you time on your paper? Let us know in the comments below!