Research papers are one of the most time-consuming parts of school. When I went back to school after 10 years as an entrepreneur, both my time and my patience for agonizing through writing research papers was limited. During my masters coursework, I developed a method / “hack,” (inspired by the creativity and necessity of working efficiently I learned as an entrepreneur) to write a research paper as efficiently as possible.
While I’m not sure if it technically qualifies as a research paper writing hack, it definitely saved me many hours in the process of writing academic research papers. This method breaks down the research paper into simple steps that build off of the instructions that your instructor provides. Using the teacher’s own work, this method uses their instructions to springboard you into the writing process. Paired with tips from my New Tips for Paper Writing you’ll be off and running on an excellent paper in no time.
You never have to face a blank page, instead, this quick and dirty paper writing hack builds step-by-step without the anxiety of sitting in front of a blank screen.
I’ll show you, step-by-step, my hack for making the process of writing a research paper as quick and efficient as possible. Follow along to hack your way to a faster, better paper.
1. Split Rubric Into Bullets
Begin with your instructor’s rubric or the writing prompt. Break down the sentence into bullet points. For example, prompts are usually written something like “Utilizing the tenants of “theory X” describe how “subject of paper” works, and address aspects A, B, C, and D.”
So begin by turning the words of the teacher’s prompt into a bulleted outline:
- How Thing Works:
- Aspect A.
- Aspect B.
- Aspect C.
- Aspect D.
Next, write a thesis that says “I’m gonna hit the things I just bullet-pointed”
Your thesis can be clunky, it can be terrible, it can be run-on. Just write something that feels like a roadmap. You can change your thesis later.
The magic trick for an acceptable academic thesis? Just say: “this paper is gonna address ______.”
X is a thing, this paper will describe X thing, explain how it works, and then address aspects A, B, C, and D.
Audio Hack for Citing Sources
Locating, organizing, and transcribing sources can be the hardest part of writing a research paper. My hack for speeding up this part of the research paper writing process is to use the voice to text feature on a smartphone. Instead of clunky transcribing, just keep your phone on while you skim potential resources, reading aloud when you reach a sentence you feel like you might be able to use. By using your phone you can quickly transcribe quotes in one step.
(Write a lot of papers? Upgrading your hardware gets cleaner results that require less editing. I use a Movo Conference Microphone and voice recognition software to write most of my papers and blog posts.)
Format Quotes & Add a Reference Page
Import your dictated quotes into the paper. Format your quotes as needed to the style assigned ( APA, Chicaco Style, or MLA etc) and then paste them into their own section following the bullet outline.
Add a reference page quickly without the tedious work of transcribing reference data by using a website called worldcat.org– There you can look up any book movie or audio and download the citation in the format you need.
Sprinkle some thoughts into outline.
Next, inspired by the sources you just read, begin to free associate under each of the points.
If your professor has provided a complex rubric, the first sentence under each bullet can simply be turning that requirement into a statement- i.e. if the prompt says” “address aspect A” you can start your sentence with: “It’s important to consider how aspect A operates, some of those ways are…”
Free associate as you have ideas, let ideas flow and don’t stop to cite. If you state something you know you need to cite, just pop in a placeholder- I coach students to simply type “CITE” in all caps to remind them to cite a source in that place in a later revision.
Paste relevant quotes under outline headers.
Now that your paper is rolling and turning into something with a little bit of a paper–like form, it’s time to add some quick quotes. Don’t worry about forming complete sentences, just copy and paste appropriate quotes from the chunk of quotes into relevant sections of the bulleted outline.
Fill out outline.
Once you’ve got some thoughts and some quotes sprinkled into your bulleted outline, start adding more text as needed.
It can be helpful to pretend each point is an essay question and you are writing a 3 sentence essay for each header.
Now, Remove bullet points
Once you’ve got a series of mini-essays with some quotes sprinkled in, it’s time to turn this bulleted outline into something resembling a paper. Remove the bullet points and any unnecessary headers.
Make sure all CITE placeholders are properly cited
Did you use “CITE” as a way to mark a statement to return and cite later? Do a quick read of your paper, adding simple filler sentences to transition (for example: “now that I have discussed aspect A it’s important to also consider aspect B”).
Go back to the introduction and replace that clunky thesis with a sentence describing what you just wrote, it might be pretty similar to your clunky thesis or completely different. That’s okay as long as it summarizes what you wrote and hits on all of the requirements that your teacher asked for in the paper.
Now skip to the bottom of your paper and rewrite your thesis in past tense, i.e. instead of “this paper will” say “this paper has.” It’s inelegant, but acceptable (and even encouraged) for academic papers to mirror the introduction in the conclusion.
Edit for Formatting, Grammar, and Citations.
Do a final reading to make sure the paper fits together and hits all the points required, double-check your citations and formatting.
Print the paper! You just wrote an entire academic research paper! Did this trick save you time on your paper? Let us know in the comments below!