Writing Well

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Writer's Block

I'm presenting the steps of the writing process in chronological order, but remember that writers compose differently. You may double-back, combine two steps, or even omit a step or two. That's okay.

You don't have enough time to do the laundry (how does it pile up so fast?), so how are you going to find the time to write your research paper? Here's the brutal truth: You won't have the time you need. No one ever does, so why should you be different? Nonetheless, the task has to get done—and within a set time frame. That's why it's especially important that you plan the task from the get-go. So let's get going.

Here are the steps you'll complete as you write a research paper:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Narrow the topic
  3. Write the thesis statement
  4. Research material
  5. Take notes on material
  6. Outline paper
  7. Draft rough copies
  8. Find more sources, if necessary
  9. Integrate source materials
  10. Document sources
  11. Do Works Cited page
  12. Write frontmatter, backmatter, title page
  13. Revise, edit, proofread
  14. Keyboard
  15. Deal with catastrophes

That last step is a dilly, so it's crucial that you build in time to deal with it. Computers crash; the dog eats your rough draft. Sometimes the one book you really need isn't available from the library; more than one Web site has been known to mysteriously vanish into the Bermuda Triangle of cyberspace.

Write Angles

Using a laptop computer can shave days off the time it takes to write a research paper. It's especially helpful for taking notes and organizing information.

I've worked out some time allocation plans you can follow as you prepare your research paper. Each plan includes some “air,” that crucial extra time, so your back won't be up against the wall as the deadline looms.

In the following spaces provided, note the day you started and completed each step. You may want to photocopy these plans so you can use them again as you write different research papers.

A Month in the Country

If you have one month (20 days) in which to complete a research paper, allocate your time this way:

Task Days Date Started Date Ended
1. Select topic 1/2 ____________ ____________
2. Narrow topic 1/2 ____________ ____________
3. Do thesis statement 1/2 ____________ ____________
4. Research 2 ____________ ____________
5. Take notes 2 ____________ ____________
6. Outline 1/2 ____________ ____________
7. Draft 3 ____________ ____________
8. Find more sources 2 ____________ ____________
9. Integrate materials 1 ____________ ____________
10. Document 1/2 ____________ ____________
11. Do Works Cited 1/2 ____________ ____________
12. Write frontmatter 1 ____________ ____________
13. Revise, edit, proof 3 ____________ ____________
14. Keyboard 1 ____________ ____________
15. Extra time 2 ____________ ____________

See Results in Six Weeks!

If you have six weeks (30 days) in which to complete a research paper, allocate your time this way:

Task Days Date Started Date Ended
1. Select topic 1 ____________ ____________
2. Narrow topic 1 ____________ ____________
3. Do thesis statement 1 ____________ ____________
4. Research 3 ____________ ____________
5. Take notes 3 ____________ ____________
6. Outline 1 ____________ ____________
7. Draft 4 ____________ ____________
8. Find more sources 3 ____________ ____________
9. Integrate materials 2 ____________ ____________
10. Document 1 ____________ ____________
11. Do Works Cited 1 ____________ ____________
12. Write frontmatter 1 ____________ ____________
13. Revise, edit, proof 4 ____________ ____________
14. Keyboard 2 ____________ ____________
15. Extra time 2 ____________ ____________
Author! Author!

We have Ben Franklin to thank for the library, since he started the first one back in 1731. The idea spread fast: By the time America became independent from Great Britain, there were 29 libraries in the 13 colonies. By the turn of the century, there were 49 libraries, holding 80,000 books. Today, the Library of Congress alone has over 70 million items in its collection (over 16 million books and 30 million manuscripts).

Forty Days (but Not Forty Nights)

If you have eight weeks (40 days) in which to complete a research paper, allocate your time this way:

Task Days Date Started Date Ended
1. Select topic 2 ____________ ____________
2. Narrow topic 2 ____________ ____________
3. Do thesis statement 1 ____________ ____________
4. Research 4 ____________ ____________
5. Take notes 5 ____________ ____________
6. Outline 1 ____________ ____________
7. Draft 7 ____________ ____________
8. Find more sources 3 ____________ ____________
9. Integrate materials 3 ____________ ____________
10. Document 1 ____________ ____________
11. Do Works Cited 1 ____________ ____________
12. Write frontmatter 1 ____________ ____________
13. Revise, edit, proof 4 ____________ ____________
14. Keyboard 2 ____________ ____________
15. Extra time 2 ____________ ____________
Write Angles

In many instances, it's actually easier to have less time in which to write a research paper, because you know that you're under pressure to produce.

Around the Library in Sixty Days

If you have two months in which to write a research paper, don't get too comfortable. With that much time, it's human nature to get a little complacent. “This paper will be a walk in the park,” you might think. Not so fast, friend.

With a long lead time, it's tempting to leave the assignment to the last minute. After all, you do have plenty of time. But “plenty of time” is relative, like “losing a little hair.” Time, like hair, goes faster than you think.

Now that you've been warned, if you have two months in which to write a research paper, why not use it this way:

Task Days Date Started Date Ended
1. Select topic 3 ____________ ____________
2. Narrow topic 2 ____________ ____________
3. Do thesis statement 1 ____________ ____________
4. Research 8 ____________ ____________
5. Take notes 8 ____________ ____________
6. Outline 2 ____________ ____________
7. Draft 10 ____________ ____________
8. Find more sources 4 ____________ ____________
9. Integrate materials 3 ____________ ____________
10. Document 2 ____________ ____________
11. Do Works Cited 1 ____________ ____________
12. Write frontmatter 2 ____________ ____________
13. Revise, edit, proof 6 ____________ ____________
14. Keyboard 3 ____________ ____________
15. Extra time 5 ____________ ____________

Now that we have our timetable in place, let's move on to the first step in the process of writing a research paper, selecting a subject.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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