One Big Mess - Getting Started with Your Paper

cartoon, frantic person at desk O.k., you're already in a mess and looking out the window thinking about having a nervous breakdown.

You're sitting there surrounded by books and copies of articles that seem to be multiplying on their own and you don't know how to get started with the paper or even how to make sense out of all of this information. And the kids are knocking at your door and the paper is due in a week. So how do you get out of this mess?

cartoon, calm person at desk Calm down. That's the first thing. Then start reviewing your sources.

A good way to review is to reread with your pen in hand so you can make margin notes and jot down the main ideas and main points of the argument. Review those margin notes.

  • Can you find a common thread of idea or argument in them (other than their common topic)?
  • Do many of the authors advocate the same thing?
  • Do you agree?

As you can see, the first thing to do (the thing you should have done before starting your research) is to approach the research with a focused question or a tentative argument in mind. Then:

  • Sift through the sources to eliminate those that don't fit your focus and identify relevant portions of those that do.
  • Follow the research-writing steps outlined here, in the virtual writing center.
  • Read and work the examples for those steps that are new or confusing. You can always check a working thesis with the writing center tutor and your course tutor as well.

And calm down--the next time definitely will be easier, once you know the process and special considerations for writing a research paper.

Questions or feedback about ESC's Online Writing Center? Contact us at Learning.Support@esc.edu.