Papers: How to end

You don’t ever really finish a paper. You just turn it in. You don’t ever really wrap it up completely. You just end. That’s what this last post in this series is about.

I thought about cutting this into a couple posts but decided to keep it all together. It’s all about ending. It doesn’t make sense to spread an ending over multiple installments.

So final thoughts…

How to end faster

You can’t use all of these for each paper. Test them out. See what works best for you.

  • Set a clock and end after you reach a specific time (time boxing).
  • Don’t start until late (like only a few days or even a night before it’s due) so you only have a certain amount of time to end. In other words, premeditated procrastination.
  • Tell your professor you’re going to email him a draft by a specific time. Then email that draft as an artificial hard deadline. You can do this multiple times throughout the process of your paper to help you stay on track for large projects.
  • Let your professor see your work super early in the process so he can guide you through it. Often, professors will point out subtopics, arguments, research directions, format issues, and so on that would otherwise take you much longer to find on your own. Sometimes, they’ll think your paper is better than you do, which means you should end earlier than you think.
  • Don’t waste time “researching.” You don’t have to know about a topic to write about it. That’s what the sources are for. Just paraphrase what the experts say.
  • Don’t edit while you write. Don’t edit at all. (For papers, I think of it an exercise in writing while telling myself I’ll edit meticulously at the end and then editing while telling myself I wrote perfectly in the beginning.)
  • If you can consistently get A’s on a paper if you work well at it, turn in your papers sooner than you think you should. Sometimes, you might sacrifice points, but often you’ll just save yourself some time and effort.

How to edit (if you can’t live without it)

If you really, really, really think you need to edit, here’s how.

  1. Read through your paper, one part at a time.
  2. As you find technical problems (missing periods, misspelled words, etc.) fix them before moving on. If you see style or content issues (awkward sentences, more examples needed, etc.), just highlight them with the highlight tool in your word processor and move on.
  3. When you get to the end, you’ll have fixed all of the most glaring problems. Get rid of all the highlights without looking back and turn in your paper.
  4. If you really don’t feel comfortable with that (and still have time you want to spend), go through those highlighted sections one by one and fix them (maybe even putting a limit on how long you’ll spend on each).

The key here is to minimize the number of times you reread. You’ll always be able to find places to tinker if you keep looking, and you’ll spend more time each time.

How to have some (added) fun in the process

I like to include a personal note to the professor when I turn in my paper. Perhaps something about how much I enjoyed the class or the teaching style, something original, not something every student could say. Asking a question can be cool too, especially if you write it right on a hard copy of your paper.

This is what the A+ students do naturally, so maybe your professor will mistake you for one of those even if you’re not. Either way, it’s can be a memorable thing to do.

How to justify what you’ve just done

Finally, I know we’ve already talked about the mindset that’s required to churn out papers like this, but you still might find yourself questioning what you’ve done after you turn something in, or even after you get a grade for it. Some things to keep in mind at the end (and beyond)…

  • Reusing the same process (outlines, templates, key phrases, etc.) might seem like a cop out, not all that creative, but really it’s just smart. Test everything – repeat what works well.
  • Extra headings actually make a paper easier to read and understand. Even though it seems to just waste space on a page, most of the time, I’d actually rather read a few words of a heading than a line or two of prose. Laying out exactly what you’re going to do and what you did, like in the Introductions and Conclusions, also helps reveal the structure of your paper and your paper’s significance.
  • Paraphrasing directly from a source might not add anything new to the conversation, apart from the new connections you make between the research that’s already out there. In the end, though, that’s what under graduate research papers are all about: finding new connections. A lot of knowledge is like that, actually.
  • [The biggest for all this] You can redirect time and effort saved on writing your paper toward something meaningful to you. If that means spending it hanging out with friends, studying for a different class, working harder at your job, or creating a new piece of art, that’s great. On the other hand, if that means spending more time on your paper because that’s actually what you want to do, no problem with that either. Either way, knowing the option for writing like this at least lets you make your decision on purpose, instead of letting the paper determine the decision for you.

So yeah…

I’d be thrilled if you take something from this series or, even better, give something from it away (you can link back to all the posts in the series here).

Like I said back when I started this, even if you’re not interested in writing papers or the process behind how I did it, you’ve learned more about how I think and as a result can hopefully reflect back on how you think, why you do what you do and are who you are.

With that, I’ll quit. I’m not really finishing this series, just ending it.

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