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Lehigh University Libraries - Library Guides

Writing tips: Steps toward a great paper

Steps toward a great paper

This library guide provides tips for writing and suggests a way to organize one's writing by using Word headers. For the latter, there is a downloadable Word template and an online tutorial (see video and tutorial below).. Other softwares are available to assist in writing, but you may find the suggestions about Word useful for many purposes. Contact Brian Simboli with questions.

*The tips below, and use of the template and Word for headers, are of course just one approach to writing, though there is no doubt that the sooner you start working on a paper after getting an assignment, and the sooner you start research, the more focused the paper will be. Otherwise, find what approaches to writing are comfortable for you, and make sure you talk to your professor about expectations for the course and writing tips or advice specific to the classroom writing assignment(s).*

This first box provides writing tips. The box below it focuses on using Word in the ways mentioned in this first box.

PRELIMINARIES

Here are some contacts for assistance with your writing:

  • Writing Center See here for information about the writing center, should you need assistance with writing.
  • Graduate Writing Contact Yvonne Lee, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Writing "for questions regarding Graduate Writing Support.  She manages consultations, workshops, retreats, and groups in order to help provide graduate students with the resources needed to complete a variety of different types of writing tasks." (From "Our Team").
  • Grant Proposal Writing For assistance with grant proposal writing, contact Kate Bullard, Ph.D., Research Program Development Officer, Office of the Vice President and Associate

(Note: the contacts above are added here as resources, not because they have officially endorsed the writing tips in this page. They can provide you with their perspectives and assistance.)

ADDITIONAL

  • Also doing a presentation? At least some of the points below apply when preparing a presentation. Here is an LTS video about doing presentations: Creating Effective Presentations.  (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.)
  • Have equations? See: Lehigh University on Overleaf. Overleaf provides a convenient way to write papers using LaTeX. LaTex can also be used more generally as a writing platform.

WRITING TIPS

1. Front-end your library research.  Find quality background information such as reference resources, books, and review articles. These provide a mental map to do focused searching for relevant literature, which in turn can lead to a great thesis statement for your paper. Contact a librarian for help in identifying relevant resources.

Tips:

  • Finding a focused scholarly debate enables you to write a paper that shows you know arguments and counter-arguments and lets you stake a position. In any case, know counterarguments to your thesis. Earn the right, through research, to defend the thesis in your paper.  
  • Create a system to organize the resources you find.  For example, use numbers as file label names for the items you download or as file labels for printed out versions of items.
  • If you have lots of resource materials, consider using a citation manager such as RefWorks. Insert into RefWorks records the numbers (see above) that you assign each piece of literature used when writing. You can then search RefWorks for the pieces of literature and see what file number you assigned them, making it easy to find the folders where you placed print-outs, or to find the downloaded versions of literature on your computer.  You can also upload documents to RefWorks. Aas you write, you can insert citations into your document and format it in your chosen citation style. 
  •  If you are not using a citation manager, put in-text citations in as you go along. They can be in the form [# of resource (per above), pp. 123-456] or in whatever form a citation style requires.  The important thing is to cite as you go along, in one way or another. 

2. As you read the literature, develop an outline. As the box below points out, if  you write the outline headers as headers in Word, this makes it easy to jockey around the headers and the text that appears below them. See the box below for details..

To avoid losing the forest for the trees,and to have a high level guidepost or point of reference for where your paper stands,  consider a few things. Keep reviewing and revising your outline as it evolves. Or, as a way of reminding yourself about the direction of your paper, consider writing a brief abstract (summary) of your paper early on in your writing and then revise it as your writing proceeds. *It's important, though, to make sure that the final version of your abstract (if it is required for your paper) is finalized and polished before handing in the paper!* Another approach is to take a piece of paper and draw a flowchart of your ideas and how they interrelate in support your thesis statement.

3. Spread writing and re-writing over many days. If you don't, it will show. Re-write, and then re-write again.

NOW SEE VIDEO, WORD TEMPLATE, AND DISCUSSION BELOW ABOUT USING WORD. 

Using Word Headers When Writing

This   video tutorial explains how to use Word headers when writing. See below for a video, a downloadable Word template, and a discussion. Use this link if you have trouble accessing from below: tutorial video.

 

Using Word in Writing Papers: Tutorial and Template

The tutorial in the box above helps you visualize the mechanics of using outline headers in Word.

First, download the template immediately above in this box.

The template has an outline structure that you might want to use in drafting your paper. Also, it has various headers that help organize your writing workflow, such as "tasks","background resources", and "notes" sections. 

After you download the template, you should see a navigation pane on the left. The pane displays the outline structure of headers used in the Word document to the right. If the pane is not open at any point, open it by clicking on the "View" menu and then check-marking "Navigation Pane".

To add new headers as you write, 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, highlight it with the cursor, and then select Heading 1 or Heading 2 etc., depending on how much you want the header to be indented. 

Again, watch the tutorial so you can visualize how to use headers in Word.

The template comes with a variety of headers:

  • Who is the Audience & What is the Take-Away? Very important. You are writing inform, convince, or persuade someone. Who are they? What is your intended take-away?
  • Tasks This is where you can put notes  about tasks to address in your research and writing of the paper.
  • Background resources Record here the resources, including their web addresses, you used for background information.
  • Possible Titles It's an art to develop a good paper title. This is a place to brainstorm about possible titles.
  • Abstract  This is where you can summarize your research. Keep revising the abstract. It's a guidepost as your paper develops..
  • Text of paper. Write text under the outline headers. You can click and drag the headers here to reposition them as needed. When you reposition a header, the text under it moves with the header. Also, you can indent the headers by selecting a higher number header, per above. 
  • Notes You can put reading notes here. Or you can park ideas here so that you can refine them before putting them in the text of the paper.
  • Reference List  This is the working list of articles, books, or other materials you are using.
  • Slush Sometimes you may have an idea you will probably not use, but want to note it just in case.
  • Acknowledgments If someone assisted you in writing, acknowledge them here.