No matter your major, you’re guaranteed to end up with at least one BIG paper assignment.

I know it’s tempting to put it off…and put it off…and put it off. (And I could hypothetically be putting off two big papers myself while writing this article, but that’s completely beside the point. Do as I say, dear readers, not as I do.)

Point being, long papers don’t have to be scary and time-draining. Here are some tips to help you write a long paper without the need for tissues.

1. Use the Pomodoro method.

Sitting down to type a paper feels deadly. But typing a paper for 25 minutes? Way more doable. With this free online timer, you can work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break to stretch, get a snack, throw in some laundry, dance…and then keep moving forward! This is a good way to keep you focused and prevent your brain from being fried after too many minutes staring at your laptop screen.

2. Have a Word doc open while you’re reading.

Doing a writeup on a public art text? Analyzing Frankenstein? Scrolling through web articles on genetic mutation?

Instead of reading, THEN going back and finding interesting points, THEN typing them up, just cut out the middle steps.

As you’re reading, if you come across something that seems interesting/important, type it up, in quotes, with the page number in parentheses. This will help you remember important thoughts and ideas right when they are occurring rather than trying to recollect them once you’ve already finished reading articles and are struggling to write the paper.

3. Group your quotes.

After you’ve gone through and typed up all your unorganized-but-interesting bits, it’s time to do a second sweep. First, open up a new document in addition to your Interesting Quotes Document.

Do you already have a solid paper topic (that either you picked, or your professor assigned)? If so, look for your typed quotes that relate most strongly to this topic, and cut and paste them into your shiny new word doc (make sure you cite them if needed)!

Do you still need to invent a paper topic? It’s right in front of you! If you thought all these quotes were interesting, there’s probably something tying them together.

Carefully look through your quotes, and when you find two about the same topic, cut and paste them into your new word doc. Add a heading that relates to the quotes (like “Frankenstein’s View On Life”) so you can keep yourself organized. Repeat until all your quotes are either neatly grouped together, or clearly awkwardly alone. (Delete these loners.)

4. Make an outline…from further-refined quotes.

If you’re a solid-paper-topic person, organize your quotes into paragraphs, in an order that makes sense. If you’re still trying to find your paper topic, do the same thing! You can shape your outline in chronological order, or in an order where one idea expands off of one another.

Are there headings that work together? Does the “Frankenstein’s View On Life” paragraph belong before the “Frankenstein’s Creature’s View On Life” paragraph?

5. Fill in the blanks.

At this point, you have groups of quotes in an order that makes logical sense. All you have to do is connect them, and the paper practically writes itself!

For example: “Mary Shelley expresses Frankenstein’s belief of (insert belief) when he states “(insert quote here).” [Explain quote clearly.]” Repeat.

6. You know the rest.

Write a swift and snappy introduction and conclusion. Double-check that your citations are formatted properly. Make sure that all of your arguments support your thesis statement (which should be in your introduction and conclusion, clearly stated). Last, make sure you look over the entire paper once your finished to catch any last-minute mistakes!

Good luck to you and your paper-writing! Use your new powers for good, productive purposes!

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the author

Dressler Parsons is a senior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. Besides writing for The Prospect, she also blogs educationally at Student-Tutor, and culinarily at Dressler Makes Things. In her free time, she loves kicking back with some leftover Mediterranean takeout and listening to podcasts like Song Exploder, The Allusionist, or This American Life.

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