- By Jason Bacot
- Published 02/23/2011
Whether you’re in high school, college, or graduate school, you’ll hear a collective groan when the teacher or professor assigns a research paper, because you know it will involve a certain commitment of your time. But the truth is, in 90% of the cases, you already know what steps you need to take to get the job done. You just don’t really want to do them. Sometimes allowing yourself to rebel just a bit can help you solidify your time commitment. Suppose you have to turn in a title and an outline on your topic. You roll your eyes and think how stupid it is to have to do this, particularly if it’s a topic you already know something about. Give yourself permission to sit down and write the snarkiest, most sarcastic title and outline ever and then do it. Chances are, buried within the snark, is a very real outline just waiting to be uncovered.
When it comes to identifying sources, particularly if you’re allowed to use online sources, you may put off the task, reasoning that since the internet operates instantly, you can find sources whenever you want. But if you go into any depth at all in your research, you’ll have a hard time remembering the name of the website that had a particular snippet you were interested in. The solution is to devote 15 to 30 minutes to gathering your online sources. Create one or more bookmark folders and give your bookmarked pages titles that are meaningful to you (e.g., “NASA articl
e about mapping phytoplankton”) to jog your memory next time you work on your paper. If you’re required to use a certain number of non-internet sources, there’s nothing for it but to block out some time to spend at the library. Tell yourself you’ll spend, say, an hour doing this important job, set a timer on your cell phone, and get to work. Promise yourself a cup of coffee or a soda when you’re done. When it’s time to write that first draft, give yourself “permission” to write the world’s worst research paper, if that’s what it takes to get you to put it down in words. This doesn’t have to be the “first draft” that you turn in to your instructor. You can always go back and fix it up a bit to get the worst parts of it to read better. Once you get your first draft back, hopefully with your teacher’s comments, take 15 or 30 minutes to sit down and really read those comments and try to understand what he or she is getting at. If you really can’t make heads or tails of the comments you got, ask. “How do you mean that this section is repetitive? Is it because it’s worded similarly to the previous section, or do you think I’m repeating information unnecessarily?”
Take these comments seriously when you revise your draft and create your final paper. If you do this, and receive a grade you believe is unfair, you have your instructor’s previous comments that you can point to when making your case that you’ve done the required changes. You know what to do: it’s a matter of making the commitment to do it.