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Avoid Information Overload When Writing Research Papers

  • By Jason Bacot
  • Published 02/23/2011
  • Writing

Sometimes even students who enjoy writing can find themselves having trouble getting started on a research paper. This can happen when they have identified a topic about which they are very enthusiastic. Quite often the problem is simple information overload. It’s the online equivalent of channel surfing: you’ve found something interesting, but you’re convinced that you’re missing out on something on another channel (website) that’s more interesting. Paradoxically, the more passionate you are about your research paper topic, the more paralyzed by information overload you can be. At first, it’s a real rush: you’re riding high on your enthusiasm for your topic, taking in every possible information stream, thrilled to fill your brain with knowledge on the topic. But the problem is, you can spend so much time reading about your topic that you end up squeezed for time needed to actually write about it. At some point you have to realize that you’ve taken in so much information you can’t process it all, and you don’t know where to begin with your research paper.

Copywriter Bob Bly calls it “analysis paralysis,” and created the 25-50-25 rule for coping. The 25-50-25 rule says you should spend not more than 25% of your time studying, not more than 25% of your time observing what the successful people are doing, and at least 50% of your time taking action, which in this case is writing your paper. If you find y

ourself overwhelmed and overloaded with information and not knowing when to stop, you might try this. Estimate how many hours it will take you to write the paper, including any preparatory writing such as making an outline, and post-writing activities like proofreading and editing. You don’t want to spend more time taking in information and making observations than you do writing. So if you think it will take 4 hours of sitting down, outlining, writing, editing, and proofreading, then vow to devote not more than 2 hours to reading and studying, and not more than 2 hours to observing successful examples of what you want to accomplish. This may not be just the right breakdown of time for you, but it’s a place to start. One of the biggest “problems” that people who love to write encounter is that they love to read, too, and are prone to becoming totally absorbed in reading well beyond what is required for the task at hand. While there is nothing wrong with going above and beyond in terms of acquiring knowledge and enjoying reading, there are situations where you have to set limits so that you can accomplish what you are required to.

Research papers are a fact of life in higher education. While teachers love enthusiastic learners, they also want you to develop the discipline you need to know when it’s time to stop preparing for a task and actually get down to accomplishing it. Learning how to structure your time in terms of preparation and action can help you not just with your research paper, but your entire academic career.



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