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Writing a College Paper

Getting Started

Essay writing can be an overwhelming task, so knowing how to get started can make things easier. An Assignment Calculator is a great tool that will help you plan the time required for your paper by breaking it down into smaller steps and providing suggested completion dates.

Have a clear picture of the expectations for your paper. Ask yourself these questions to make sure you know what your instructor is looking for. If you're unsure of the answers, ask your instructor for clarification.

  • Are you supposed to analyze, consider, compare, reflect, argue, or explain the topic?
  • What is the expected total length of the assignment (in pages or word count)?
  • How many and what kind of resources should you use?
  • How current should your resources be?
  • Does the assignment specify APA or MLA formatting?

An Assignment Calculator is a great tool that will help you plan the time required for your paper by breaking it down into smaller steps and providing suggested completion dates.

Choose a topic of interest to you. Unless your Instructor has assigned the topic, choose something you genuinely want to learn about.

  • Check with your instructor for approval of your topic.
  • Do some preliminary research to narrow down your topic – is there enough information available on your chosen topic?
    • Check your textbook or do a quick database search to give you a good overview of the topic.
    • Try using the “Topic Finder” tool in one of our databases.
  • Refine your topic – narrow it down.
  • Turn your topic into a question - You will be trying to answer this question with your research.

Create a plan for how you are going to search for resources. Translate your ideas into a search by following these instructions:

  • Break down your topic by key concepts
  • Develop short list of synonyms of key concepts
  • Group synonyms by key concept to search the database

Breakdown of topic by key concepts example and list synonyms

 TOPIC:

How does using technology in the classroom help students improve their literacy skills?

 KEY CONCEPTS:

education

literacy

computer

 SYNONYMS:

teaching

primary school

reading

writing

technology

device

laptop

 

Search Example

Determine which types of resources will best support the ideas in your paper. Follow your instructor's directions on which types of resources they'd like to see in your paper. Often it's best to use a variety of resource types in an assignment.

Databases

  • Your best bet for resources. Databases provide articles from academic journals, magazines, newspapers and more. Our databases also provide complete citations for every article within.

  • Start with your program guide – which databases and journals are suggested for your program? Try searching the subject-specific databases as well as the multi-subject databases.

  • Use the tools of the database to narrow down and filter your search – full-text, peer-reviewed, date published.

eBooks

  • NBCC has two different eBook platforms, which provide tools to narrow down your search as well as full citations for each item.

Resources from the web
There’s a lot of great information on the web. Start with a few of the Recommended Websites in your Program Guide. Remember to evaluate any information you find on the web for:

  • Currency: the timeliness of the information
  • Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
  • Authority: The source of the information
  • Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
  • Purpose: Why was this written and for whom?

Keep your notes organized. If you start by setting up a way to keep track of the resources you find, you can save yourself time and frustration in the later stages of your writing. We often think that we will remember which quotes or ideas came from which article or book, but lose track of them after reading several resources.

  • For each paper, create a document for citations and notes
  • When you find relevant articles:
    • Copy the citation (use the database tool citation button)
    • Make notes about what you may use this article for. Example: 3rd paragraph of this article has useful statistics comparing student learning to read in a classroom with literacy programs on iPads versus students in a classroom without any literacy technology.
    • Note which database you found the article in if you are using multiple databases
    • Jot down your search terms in the same document to help you return to similar results

 

Preparing to Write

Once you’ve defined your topic and found relevant research, you can start organizing your paper. Creating a thesis statement to refer back to as you’re writing and filling in an outline for each section of your paper will help keep you on topic during the writing process.

What is a Thesis Statement?

"A thesis statement clearly identifies the topic being discussed, it should only cover what is being discussed in the paper, and is written for a specific audience. Your thesis statement belongs at the end of your first paragraph, also known as your introduction. Use it to generate interest in your topic and encourage your audience to continue reading.” Source: Rasmussen College, What is a Thesis Statement? Library & Learning Services, retrieved Feb 07, 2019.

Your thesis statement is the main argument of your paper and should be 1-2 sentences long. Everything you write in the body of your paper should support your thesis statement. A thesis statement will help you stay focused and on point.

Example:
Due to New Brunswick’s climate, energy needs and current energy infrastructure, investing in large-scale solar power plants is the most economical route to transition to fully renewable energy in the province.
 

For a better understanding of what a thesis statement is and how to develop one for your paper, check out Creating a Thesis Statement from the Learning Portal (College Libraries Ontario).

Creating an outline of your paper is a great way to organize your thoughts and stay on point when writing your paper. Your outline doesn’t have to be formal. Remember your outline is a guide for you to follow when pulling your paper together.

Your outline should include:

  • Introduction
    • First paragraph
      • Introduce your topic
      • Present your main argument of the paper in the form of a thesis statement
  • Body
    • Paragraph I: First supporting point
      • Introduce supporting evidence
      • Explain relevance to thesis statement
    • Paragraph II: Second supporting point
      • Introduce supporting evidence
      • Explain relevance to thesis statement
    • Continue with paragraphs to cover all your relevant points
  • Conclusion
    • Final paragraph
      • Summarize your main points
      • Relate points back to your thesis statement

 

Writing Your Paper

You have gathered all your research material, have a clear outline and are ready to start writing. Keep your audience in mind and explain each idea clearly.

Now you're ready to write your first draft. You should have a thesis statement, an outline of your paper, and a collection of notes and sources with which to write the content of your paper.

  • You’ve done the research and have your outline and notes. Now - just write! Your first draft is not about being perfect; it’s about getting your ideas and arguments sketched out.
  • Turn off your internal critic as you write. Your goal initially should be to "write" rather than to "write well". Free-write. Don’t worry about grammar or format - your first draft is about getting ideas on paper.
  • Imagine a reader who is really interested in your topic. Write directly to that reader.
  • Write the easiest sections first. (Hint - write your introduction last).
  • Break down a large writing task into smaller parts. Write it in sections.
  • Take a break.

When to Cite your Sources
All information and supporting evidence that you are presenting in your paper should have a citation telling the reader where that information is from. This includes:

  • Another person’s idea, opinion or theory
  • Any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings
  • Any pieces of information that are not common knowledge
  • Quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing another person’s spoken or written words

Terms to Know

  1. What is Paraphrasing?
    Paraphrasing using someone’s ideas, but putting them in your own words. The final product is similar in length to the original product but in your own words. Citation required.
    ​For more information on how to paraphrase, check out Writing Paraphrases by the University of North Carolina’s Writing Center.

  2. What is Summarizing?
    Summarizing is putting only the main ideas or main points into your own words. The final product is much short than the original. Citation required.

  3. What are Quotations?
    Quotations are using someone’s exact words. When quoting, you must always put quotation marks around the passage. Citation required.

  4. Do I Need to Cite Common Knowledge?
    Common Knowledge refers to facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people. (Example: New Brunswick is a Canadian Province.) Citation NOT required.

Citing your sources is important to show your audience that the facts and statements in your paper are supported by accurate information. Using quotations in moderation and a variety of paraphrased and summarized passages related to your thesis statement, can enhance the quality of your writing.

For more information, check out our guide on Citing Your Sources, or speak to your Library Learning Coordinator.

Your second draft is usually easier to craft because you already have the material written down. The purpose of a second draft is to look critically at your paper's structure, rework sections that might cause confusion, and make your writing more concise. In the second draft, you can start paying attention to punctuation, grammar, style of writing, and other technical issues you ignored in the first draft copy.

Helpful tip: Read your paper aloud to yourself. Your ear will pick up on any confusing passages or awkward phrasing better than seeing your writing on paper.

When preparing your final draft, you'll need to go through your work carefully, looking for any grammar mistakes, making your wording more clear and concise, and reading your paper for style and tone. It is also time to format your paper as specified in your assignment; add a cover page, if necessary; double check your in-text citations as well as your reference list or works cited. It is always a good idea to give your paper a final read through out loud.


Sample Paper

eBooks

Writing a Great Research Paper

Reference Guides 

Public Speaking
Writing Tips: Term Paper Vocabulary
1001 Words for Success
English Composition & Style
Common Grammar Pitfalls & Mistakes
Essays & Term Papers
Presentations