Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Lehigh University Libraries - Library Guides


Steps toward a great paper

This guide focuses on finding library resources for writing papers. 

What follows are some pointers that have proved useful to me (Brian Simboli) and that you might want to consider.

See here for information about the writing center, should you need assistance with writing.

Important: if your paper includes equations, see:  Lehigh University on Overleaf. Overleaf provides a convenient way to write papers using LaTeX.

(NOTE: At least some of the points below apply when preparing a presentation. Here is a very helpful video about doing presentations, including best practices for using Powerpoint as well as presentation techniques:  Creating Effective Presentations (materials assembled by Lehigh LIbrary and Technology Services staff members Jarret Brown and Holly Zakos ).  It's a good idea to add the sources you used to the final slide of your presentation Powerpoint. And/or you can add citations at the bottom of individual slides.)


1. Before doing anything else, write a very brief abstract (summary) for your paper.  Put anything down that happens to occur to you. You'll revise it continually later, so don't be concerned about getting it "right".

2. Always "front end" your library research as the first step in writing a paper or developing a presentation. Spending lots of time at the very outset in finding quality background information, and then using that as background for focusing your searching of relevant library databases, will pay dividends.

Try to find an interesting scholarly debate. Doing so will enable you to write a really interesting, creative paper that shows you know the arguments and counter-arguments within that debate, and then "stake" your own position within it. Contact your librarian (Brian Simboli) for assistance in finding relevant literature.

As you find scholarly literature, ask your professor about its appropriateness. You may find it helpful to write up your own annotations of relevant articles, if this is not already required by your professor as an assignment.

3.Now go back and rewrite or tweak your abstract as you read the literature you found in step 2. The abstract will become your guidepost as you develop your project. 

You may want to consider creating a simple numbering system to identify articles that are relevant to your research. Use those numbers as file names for the articles you have downloaded or for other items (e.g., books or other types of literature) that you have not downloaded. If you print out material, put the file number on the printed out items. 

If you have lots of source materials and are therefore using a citation management software such as RefWorks, you may find it unnecessary to use such a numbering system, but still it can be helpful to label articles and other literature that you put in RefWorks with numbers that correspond to printed out versions of your articles. (Talk to the librarian about this.)

4. Start writing up an outline. When the outline is really well developed, use the topics in the outline as subject headers as you write your paper. 

5. Don't write your paper in one sitting. It will take lots of sittings over a period of many days to write a quality paper. 

6. As you write your paper, you can continually restructure the paper. See below for a Word template that you can use for this purpose. Make sure the navigation pane appears on the left of the Word document, after you have supplied headers. You can move sections of the paper by clicking and dragging the section headers. More details below in the box below about using Word in writing a paper.

7. As you write, insert the numbers (see above) that you have assigned each piece of literature you have used in your writing. (You may want to insert the numbers in the form (#8, p. 123)). Finally, as you complete your draft, supply properly formatted in-text references and reference lists, following the appropriate reference style. For this class, see "citing sources" in this library guide. Note: certainly use your own system for inserting in-text citations. You may want to figure out the in-text citation format and use that format all along as you write drafts. My own preference is just to put in numbers followed by page numbers (again, for example,  (#8, p. 123)) and wait til the end to put them into the appropriate format. Just seems simpler, but use your own system if that doesn't work for you.

Now see the box below for tips about using Word while writing.

Using Word in Writing Papers

Below are tips for using Word when writing papers that I have found useful .

First, download the above template. It has a structure that you might want to use in writing your own papers for this or other classes.  (Note: your librarian may be able to suggest a software that facilitates writing, if you want something more elaborate than the this template.)

The sample text in the template is a totally manufactured and artificial sample of a paper that does not reflect any library research. In fact, it may be a bad topic for a paper. The point is just to provide an example of how Word helps you set upa paper. First, some notes about what you're seeing in the template. Then, some comments about the mechanics of using the Word template.

Make sure the navigation pane appears on the left. To open the navigation pane click on the "View" menu, and then check mark "Navigation Pane". In the navigation pane, you can see the structure of headers used in the Word document to the right.

To add new headers, open the "Home" menu. You should see various heading options, such as Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on. Type a new header in the paper and then highlight it with the cursir, and then select Heading 1 1 or Heading 2 etc., depending on how much you want the header to be indented. 

What do all these headers in the template mean? How can I use them?

  • Tasks This is where you can put notes to self about what to on the paper.
  • Background resources Record here the resources you used to provide background information, with some notes about why they were useful
  • Possible Titles It's an art to develop a good paper title. This is a place to brainstorm about possible titles.
  • Abstract Keep revising this abstract. It's a guidepost to where your research stands.
  • Outline Writing up an outline here in the first stage of your research. At some point move the outline headers down to the next section, "Text of article", and after doing so delete the "Outline header".
  • Text of article This is structured according to the outline of your paper. You can click and drag the headers here to move them around, if you want to reposition them. Also, you can indent the headers. 
  • Notes This is a sandbox in which to write material in the initial stages of your research, if you're unsure of where to put some ideas in the "Text of article" section
  • Reference List  This is the working list of articles you are using.
  • Slush Sometimes you may have an idea but are not sure whether it's valuable or not. This is a place to "park" ideas that may or may not come to fruition.
  • Acknowledgments If someone assisted you in writing, acknowledge them here.