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Essays and Papers


There are three separate components in essays and papers:

Shifting through existing arguments Forming your own argument Communicating your argument clearly

The standard research/think/write is incredibly draining.
The sooner students dispel the notion that writing is the most important part of paper writing, the easier it will become to reap the benefits.

Research Paper v. Essay

Requires you to choose a topic within provided parameters and then devise an original these relevant to your chosen topic

Requires original research to support your original these, and, accordingly, their page lengths are long and their due dates far away.


Essays are short, and they typically require you to analyse one or more of your class reading assignment

Simple rule: the required precision of your thinking works in proportion to the constraint of the material.
That is, the more specific the assignment, the more subtle and detailed your thinking must be.


Some initial research is required. A thesis devised from scratch is dangerous. Without some initial exploration, you have no idea whether your idea is viable (this can result in paper restarts)

For an essay:
• Review notes that relate to the essay prompt (that’s it)
• The earlier you develop an idea of what you are going to say, the more time you have to refine the nuances of your argument
For a research paper:
• Find an interesting thesis that can be supported within the scope of the assignment; and
• Minimise the time required to conduct this search. Achieve this by starting general, then moving one layer deep
Begin with basic sources/general guides, use reserve shelves. Overview sources will be much too broad to reveal a targeted and interesting argument that hasn’t already been written about extensively.
The main reason for general sources is to look at the bibliographies. Read any chapters from general sources that look useful; then look up the sources used in that chapter. A good thesis is generally: provocative, nuanced, direct, and inclusive.
Finally, if possible, seek a second opinion. For every major assignment you should make a habit of discussing your approach/ideas with your teacher. Try asking them the following questions:
1. Is my idea appropriate for the assignment
2. Does it cover too much
3. Is it too simple
Remember that one simple meeting can make the difference between a standout work and an incoherent dud.


You want all the necessary facts and ideas to be at your fingertips, easily manipulated, sourced, and shuffled as you build your case. If your sources are incomplete and disorganised, then your paper will be to.
To research like a machine try to follow a system – a mechanical process, the same for every paper – that enables you to produce your best results. TLP proposes the following outline:
1. Find sources
• Two types of sources: general and specific. The former includes overviews of your topic; the latter focuses on specific arguments.
• Four main search tactics:
I. Break up your query into general chunks
II. Use journal databases
III. When in doubt, google
IV. Ask a librarian
2. Make personal copies of all sources
• Makes information more accessible and secure on your own device or hands.
3. Annotate the material
• Skim, skim, skim
• Whenever, you pass by an important definition, idea, or opinion that seems relevant, jot down the page number and a quick description
4. Decide if you’re done (if not loop back to Step 1)
• The research termination determination procedure:
I. List the topics that are crucial to your paper and thesis
II. List the topics that might help you support thesis
III. If you have at least two good sources for each of the topics from #1 and have at least one good source for most of the topics from #2, then you’re done. Other you need to keep researching

Other Informations

A topic does not equal a thesis. A topic describes an interesting subject or area of observation. A thesis presents an interesting specific argument about that subject or observation. So how should students choose a research topic? They is to choose a topic, within the constraints of the assignment, that excites you. The best to identify a topic is to start searching for one early.

    Follow this approach:

  • On the first day of class, read the description of the research paper(s) that will be assigned
  • The syllabus should describe each paper’s topic parameters and the professor will usually discuss these assignments briefly early in the term
  • Once you know the parameters of the paper, you should constantly be on the lookout for a particular subject or observation that interests you
    If one reading assignment really grabs your attention, jot down the topic so you’ll remember it later If you have trouble finding a topic, you have two options:
  • 1. Approach your teacher with some ideas you have and let the teacher recommend some appropriate readings
  • 2. Read your primary sources carefully (textbooks or encyclopedias)

You must have a vision of what the overall structure of your paper will be. In general, a good argument should accomplish the following (there is not set order or format for presenting these general points):
1. Draw from previous work o the same topic to define the context for the discussion
2. Introduce a thesis and carefully spell out how it relates to existing work on similar issues
3. Support the thesis with careful reasoning and references to existing arguments, evidence, and primary sources
4. Introduce some final prognostications about extending the argument and its potential impact on the field as a whole
Some general tips before we continue onto the outline include:
1. When it comes to craft the storyline of your paper put yourself in the right mind-set:
• Read good articles/publications
• Reread related articles and chapters from your course syllabus
• Do whatever it takes to get the reasoning portions of your mind inspired and curious
2. At this point, grab your source material from the previous step:
• Dive into this information, and start letting the relevant facts and arguments settle into your mind
• This is where your annotations will point you toward what’s interesting, and helps you avoid the irrelevant
3. Take a break:
• Do something else. Let the pieces float around in the background noise of your mind
• Start looking for any opportunity to do a little thinking about your argument
• Keep returning to your material to find more details. Exposing yourself to the source material allows you to understand and internalise the content
When students are constructing an outline there are two major outline-related mistakes that can occur:
1. Under-outlining:
• If your outline lacks enough detail, it’s not going to serve its purpose as a structure to guide your writing, and you will end up writing from your scratch
• It leads to argumentative dead ends and weak overall structure
2. Over-outlining:
• When it comes time to write, you will be hampered if you constructed an outline that practically spells out what each sentence of each paragraph should say
• It’s not until your putting words on paper that you will understand the best way to make each small piece of your argument flow. Don’t let an outline make these decision for you.
To avoid this, students should attempt to use a topic-level outline. A topic is any self-contained point that you might discuss in your paper. Typically, this is more general than a piece of evidence but also more specific that a multi-part argument.
Students should start the outlining process by constructing a topic skeleton. This is a list of all the topics you will discuss in your paper, presented in the order that you plan to include them.
At this point, no specific pieces of evidence are described by our outline, but it does capture how the paper will flow.
Next, students fill in the details related to each topic using the annotated pieces of evidence. When it comes time to write, you don’t want to be flipping through your sources.

The more input you receive, the better your paper will turn out. And, because soliciting advice is easy, you might as well get your outline reviewed by a group of people you trust.
Warning: before discussing with a classmate, make sure that collaboration of this sort is allowed.
Importantly, follow your outline and move slowly. Use it to direct your writing, setting up and expounding on each of the topics in a clear, cogent way.
Moving fast tends to produce time-consuming dead ends later – this can lead to rewrites.
There are three important pieces of logistical advice students should follow to write without agony:
1. Separate your writing from the steps that come before and after. Separate your research from your writing and your writing from your editing.
2. Write in quiet isolation. Writing requires concentration. If you work in a noisy, open, distracting area you will become distracted
3. Schedule your writing to correspond to your energetic points during the day. Recognise that writing is demanding and don’t do it at night when you are tired.
Finally, when you believe you are ready to hand in the assignment, conduct the essay passes:
1. The argument adjustment pass:
• Spread this process out several days if possible
• Read carefully, and focus on the presentation of your arguments – don’t worry about the small grammatical mistakes for the moment
• Be on the lookout for any major structural issues. Sometimes you don’t realise until you finish an entire draft that your topic outline wasn’t optimal
• Tweak the argument until you’re satisfied that it makes every point that you want to make in the order that you want to make them
• Once you’re done with this pass, these big picture details are locked in
2. The out-load pass:
• Begin to read the paper out loud whilst using a pen or highlighter to mark errors/potential changes
• The goal is to root out small mistakes that might otherwise distract a reader from your engaging paper
• Once through the whole paper, enter the changes you noted
• Reading it out load helps you catch typos or strange wording better than reading it in your head
3. The sanity pass:
• Separate this pass from the previous two
• The goals are twofold (1) this last pass catches stray mistakes and (2) it provides closure on your paper
• Because your work is so polished by this point, this final read-through should essentially go smoothly
• Once you hand in your paper, you can now confidently tell yourself that you’re done.

  • Target a Titillating Topic. Start looking for an interesting topic early.
  • Conduct a Thesis-Hunting Expedition. Start with general sources and then follow references to find the more targeted sources where good thesis ideas often hide.
  • Seek Second Opinion. A thesis is not a thesis until a professor has approved it.
  • Research like a Machine. Find sources, make personal copies of all sources, annotate the material, and decide if you’re done (if not loop back)
  • Craft a Powerful Story. There is no shortcut to developing a well-balanced and easy-to-follow argument. Dedicate a good deal of thought over time to getting it right. Describe your argument in a topic-level outline. Type supporting quotes from sources directly into your outline.
  • Consult your Expert Panel. Before starting to write, get some opinions on the organisation of your argument and your support from classmates who are familiar with the topic. The more important the paper, the more people who should review it.
  • Write Without the Agony. Follow your outline and articulate your points clearly. Write no more than 3-5 pages/weekday and 5-8 pages/weekend day.
  • Fix, Don’t Fixate. Solid editing requires only three careful passes: the argument adjustment pass, the out-loud pass and the sanity pass.