How to Conquer Your Paper-Writing Fears
The following article is published as part of the Academic Integrity Initiative, featuring the writing of University of Manitoba faculty, staff and students.
Writing a paper can be a daunting task. Students sometimes feel anxiety about writing papers and put off taking courses where they’ll have to write. Eventually, a course with written assignments has to be taken. Students can ease the anxiety connected with writing papers by starting early and allowing enough time to work through the processes involved in writing a well-constructed and insightful paper. Here we describe some of the processes that, if given enough time, can make the experience of writing papers less stressful and more satisfying.
- Build a solid base of knowledge. To write a paper that offers more than a surface analysis, it’s essential to build a solid base of knowledge in the topic. This is done by generously budgeting time to read, and often re-read, source material to deepen understanding. Starting to read well before a deadline allows students to find answers where their understanding is weak by talking to professors, teaching assistants, and tutors.
- Take notes while reading. Tracking information while reading can seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. An important step in taking notes is putting the ideas into new words, or paraphrasing. Paraphrasing deepens understanding. While reading and taking notes, it’s also important to keep the purpose of the assignment in mind as this can ease the writing process.
- Embrace writing as a process. Many students don’t think of writing as a process, but instead want to produce a final copy the first time they sit down at their keyboards. It’s helpful to start writing early so that there’s time to walk away and mull on ideas. Writing is difficult. Multiple drafts allow ideas to grow and take shape. It takes time to refine ideas, and polishing comes in the editing stage.
- Revise and edit as necessary. Alongside wanting to write a finished copy the first time around, students often don’t set aside time to revise and edit their drafts. Breaks are important in this stage because they allow the writer to come back to the paper fresh and assume a reader’s perspective. This reading allows the writer to see and address gaps in logic, which may involve returning to a previous stage in the writing process.
There are many stages that come between getting assignment guidelines and handing in the final copy of a paper, and adequate time throughout the process is necessary. With practice and supportive feedback, students may learn to embrace the messiness of the writing process and see it as a necessary part of learning.
Students can get feedback at any stage of the writing process through the Academic Learning Centre’s Writing Tutor Program. Faculty who would like their students to know about the program can invite a tutor into their class to make a short presentation. Students and faculty can visit us in the Elizabeth Dafoe Library or find us online.
Kathy Block is the writing services coordinator at the Academic Learning Centre, and Skye Carrette is a writing tutor.