Guide to Writing through the Academia Mania
February 28, 2013
Academic writing is completely different from any other kind of writing; it requires a type of thinking that has to be learned and developed over time. The first step in writing an effective research paper is choosing a topic. For me, coming up with the idea of what to write about always happens one of two ways; it either begins with a vague thought that develops into a general idea the day before the proposal is due, or it strikes all at once in a moment of manic epiphany complete with excruciating detail demanding to be composed immediately.
The trickiest part about coming up with an idea is the requirement for critical thinking about a piece of often canonical literature, and it has to be an idea that no one anywhere else has written down before. Think about that for a minute. Try to imagine how many different people have read books and written about them. There are whole databases and literary journals devoted specifically to this kind of writing. To come up with a topic, I recommend starting with a question. Choose an aspect of the book that you have questions about; normally, if you have questions, then that can give you a significant amount of unique material to write about. The question is even better if there are aspects that have cultural or historical significance, as this often provides you with opposing discourses in primary sources to draw from.
The arguable answer to the main question about the book is the thesis of the paper. At this point, it’s just a rough idea, and it is likely to change as you continue to research. That’s okay – don’t be afraid to change your mind.
With the newly formed thesis in hand, the next step of the paper-writing process is to consult those previously mentioned databases and literary journals. First, I always like to type the title and author into a search to get a general idea of what other scholars have already written. At this point, you want to make sure that no one else has made the same argument that you want to make. Also, while looking at this, you want to note if the amount of published material is very limited. It can be difficult to meet the minimum source requirement for these sorts of books. In this case, you need to find alternative resources written about similar aspects of different books or using your method of approach on other novels. In addition to critical articles, you will need to find books either on pertinent history or on applicable theory.
For both kinds of research, an important tip to keep in mind is that you don’t always need the entire resource. Bigger books can include chapters or sometimes just little blurbs about your topic. This is extremely useful when looking for information about a very confined topic. For example, if you’re looking for something about the Boston Tea Party, you might have to look for a book on the Revolutionary War and flip to a specific section.
When it comes to actually writing the paper, I always advise keeping all resources on hand with all of the markings still in the book until the paper is completely finished. Otherwise, a piece of citation information or part of a quote will inevitably go missing at the most inopportune time. The key to being successful in the end is a very simple one, if still difficult to manage. Give yourself enough time and you will be just fine.
Oak Grove Branch