How To Tackle Your First College Research Paper

It’s finally happened: you’ve been assigned your first college research paper.

It may seem like a huge, intimidating task that you’ll never get through, but any student can tell you that papers are just another part of college you get used to after a while.

I’ve lost count of how many I’ve written in my four years of college. My point is that you’ll survive. These tips will help you do just that.

  • Do NOT wait until the night before.

We’re starting with the most important one. When the professor hands you the assignment sheet and says you have two months to write your paper, which do you think is the best thing to do?

  1. Toss the sheet into your bag and forget about it until the week of the due date.
  2. Put off working on the paper until the night before because, hey, you’re awesome and can write 10 pages on a topic you know nothing about in only a few hours, right?
  3. Make sure you understand the assignment and then start working on it bit by bit.

(HINT: You better believe the answer is #3!)

Procrastination is the college student’s #1 enemy. I know, I know, I probably sound like your professor right now, but it’s the truth.

Take it from someone who’s pulled a few all-nighters in her time because I waited until the last minute on assignments: staying up all night is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Do yourself and your roommate a favor (no one wants to deal with the bad mood that follows a sleepless night) and get started on your paper immediately after it’s assigned.

  • Have you read the assignment?

Well, do it again. Often times, professors are very specific in how they want a paper to be written. If you want to get full credit, make sure you understand his or her expectations.

This includes:

  • Citation style (i.e.: MLA, APA, Chicago Style, etc. Your prof will probably tell you which. If not, ask. It shows initiative.)
  • Length (When your professor says the paper needs to be 4 pages, she doesn’t mean 3 pages and 2 lines on the 4th page. She means 4 pages full to the end with your writing. Some prof’s are more strict than others, so be aware.)
  • Content. (If you professor gives you a list of what he wants included in the paper, go point-by-point and talk about all of it. He basically gave you an outline for the paper. Use it!)
  • Save your work. CONSTANTLY.

While you’re writing your paper, make it a habit to hit that “save” button every few lines.

Seem excessive? Believe me, it’s not.

Don’t let yourself become that student who has to beg their professor for an extension on the due date because their computer crashed / laptop battery died / they forgot to save their 8 page report.

Saving your work every few minutes is easy to do and will prevent you from wanting to throw your computer out the window later.

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Ana Koulouris

Ana Koulouris

Ana Koulouris is a senior at Benedictine University in Illinois pursuing a degree in writing and publishing. When she is not at work in the Office of Admissions or on the university's newspaper, she can be found writing short stories, reading anything and everything, and spending time with family and friends.