Where to Start with Your Paper?

Genna Swanson

Contributing Writer

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Kenney.

When I was given the assignment to write an article for the school newspaper, I was faced with the daunting task of selecting a topic to discuss with the people of Springfield College. That is when I realized that I was facing the same problem that several students have when they come into the Academic Success Center: I did not know where to start my paper.

When you don’t know where to begin writing a paper, there are several strategies for brainstorming. My favorite is to map out words or phrases that I can think of off the top of my head that relate to the topic of the paper. From those words or phases, I can then think of examples or other phrases that are associated with my first ideas. I usually chose whichever phrase I can think of more examples for as the topic for my paper. This strategy is commonly referred to as mind mapping.

Once I have brainstormed the topic for my paper, I develop an outline for the paper. For each paragraph, I have a main idea and two or more examples that I can expand on in the paragraph. Remember, all of your paragraphs must relate back to your thesis. You don’t want to wander too much from the central theme of your paper. The more detailed the outline is, the easier it will be to sit down and write the paper later.

If your paper is centered around a book or novel, it may be useful to add quotes and explain the meaning behind the quotes into your outline. If you are composing a research paper, using journal articles as examples in your outline and explaining the significance of this articles can help to add detail to the outline.

Brainstorming and developing an outline will help you to begin your paper because you will know what direction you are going in before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). You wouldn’t walk blindfolded into an unfamiliar area, so why would you go blindfolded into writing a college paper? If you don’t know the direction you are going in when beginning your paper, you may end up writing in a way that your reader cannot follow.

So the next time you sit down to write a paper, think before you write and don’t forget to brainstorm and develop an outline!

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