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Lesson #21 - Writing Papers, Part 1

There are two major parts of writing a good paper. The first is to develop the ideas and prepare a first draft. The second part is to develop and refine your ideas and to produce a final paper.

In this lesson, you will learn about the first part of writing a paper. Remember that STUDY SMART suggests that you study systematically using PAT. We think you should write in the same way. To do your best, you should first, by Preparing, then, by Acting and finally, by Testing.

Q: How can you Prepare for writing?

Like other preparation, you want to drive out competing ideas so you can focus your attention when you write. You also want to build on your knowledge to learn more and make writing easier.

There are several Actions you should take to Prepare to write:

  1. Make sure you understand the assignment:  There are several things you want to consider about all writing assignments. These include what teachers expect about topic, length, style, reference sources, grammar, and format (where to put your name, date, title, etc.). These "details" can make a big difference in grades so it is important to find them out.
  2. Find out the grading criteria:  Every teacher uses somewhat different standards to grade student papers. If a teacher hasn't told you or you are unsure, then ask how papers will be graded.

    Some common criteria are: how well a point is made, how well a point is supported, the number of references used, use of language, the way a paper moves from one point to another, and the mechanics of writing.

  3. Identify the resources you will need:  For some papers you will need reference sources, but for all papers you will need some materials. If you know how to use a computer, it is best to write using a computer. You may also need encyclopedias, a dictionary, a thesaurus, textbooks, class notes, props, charts, or other resources. You should collect these as you begin. It can be very disturbing if you have to stop writing to find something you need.
  4. Think about other papers you have written. Think especially of papers you have written for the teacher who gave you the assignment, but for others teachers, also. Identify errors you have made that you should avoid. Think also about what you have done well so you can do these things again. You want to make every paper you write better than any you have written before. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Repeat your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.
  5. Set goals for yourself:  Remember that your teachers will read what you write. You will get a better grade if your papers are interesting, clear, well organized, and make important points. Plan to write papers that will be easy to read. And, plan to turn papers in on time. Begin early so you can write three or four drafts.
  6. Choose your topic:  Select topics you find interesting; this will make it easier to write and research, if needed. If you have trouble making a selection, check with your teacher. Be careful that your topics are not too broad to cover in the paper. Usually, more specific or narrow topics are better for a paper. If you begin early, you can ask your teachers many questions about your papers and your topics. So, if you have problems, you should ask.

When you have completed these preparation actions, you should begin putting ideas on paper.

Q: What is a good way to get started writing?

The best way is to take action. Many people find it hard to begin a paper. One reason is that they don't have a clear idea of how to begin. However, they usually do have many good ideas. The problem is how to start.

Before you actually write, think about what you want to say. Your paper must have main points.

Write down the important ideas you think of for your paper. Write as many as you can. Don't worry about sentences or punctuation. Make a list of the main points you want to make. Then write all the ideas you can think of that you want to use to support these main points.

When you have finished writing all the ideas you can think of, review your list. Add anything more that comes to your mind. Then review the list again.

This time, organize your list by putting similar ideas together. You can cut up your list so you can put ideas in piles if you like. Some people write their ideas on index cards and put these together in piles.

Finally, look at your piles of ideas and put them in order. Decide which are main points and which are details, and choose the order to write them in.

Q. Do you write, now?

Actually, everything you have done so far is a part of writing. But, now you are ready to begin a first draft. Begin by writing about the ideas you have in each of your piles of ideas. Keep your main idea in mind, but do not worry about spelling, sentence structure, and grammar. Your goal at this point is to get your ideas on paper.

As a final word on preparing, remember that writing takes all your concentration and attention. You will do your best writing in a quiet place with few distractions. Make it easy on yourself to write.

Q: How can you start to write better papers?

For practice try two activities:

  1. Think about a topic, event, activity, or hobby you enjoy. Make a list of all the ideas you can think of about this topic. Just let your mind wander and write as quickly as you can. Then organize this list by putting similar ideas together in separate piles. You can use Form 21.1 to make your list.
  2. Ask several of your teachers to explain their process for grading papers. See if they have different criteria and things they look for.

Lesson #22
Lesson #20

ECC [] ©Copyright 1991, Thomas M. Sherman. Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.


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