Papers: How to think about the process

There are a bunch of different kinds of papers you can write. This series is about writing the kind in college or university, the typical undergrad, research paper.

Of these kinds of papers, there are two main ways to write them: the harder way that results in a good paper and the easier way that just gets good grades. They are not the same. This series is about writing that second kind of paper.

This is the tough part about getting into this, at least for me. I want to write an excellent paper, not just an A paper. I want to be my own critic.

Trouble is, for the grade, it’s not about me or what I think. It’s really just about whoever’s grading the paper, in this case usually a professor. As long as I can live with myself after turning in the paper, the rest of my feelings about it shouldn’t matter, just the professor’s.

When I’m in the middle of writing a paper, I want to pay attention to all the details, but in doing that, I ignore the broader goal: grades and graduation. I can write a few excellent papers, take a long time, and burn out, or I can write papers that get excellent grades, don’t take nearly as long to write, and as a result burn through a bunch of them in a shorter period of time.

After all, if I really wanted to write excellent papers, I would write them on my own, outside school. But do I do that? No, not really. I write other things I enjoy even more. So why try extra hard for something in school that isn’t that important outside of school?

That’s my thinking anyway. And this way of thinking is essential for pulling off the writing techniques I use. You can’t care about the quality of your paper and write them the way I do.

Instead, you have to find other motivations, other reasons to care beyond quality, to keep you moving forward. For instance, instead of finding success in turning in a paper I actually like reading, one that shares some original insights or challenges how I think, I find success in turning in a paper that gets an A with the least amount of time required.

In other words, an excellent paper switches from being a paper I enjoy for the content to being a paper I finish in record time. Speed, instead of quality, becomes my marker for success.

Once that decision is made, there are tons of tricks for churning out papers. And you can still get A’s.