Tip #1: Outlines are annoying, but it’ll cut the time it takes you to write a paper in half. It lets you see how your ideas fit together so you can move them around and organize them without having to re-write entire paragraphs or pages. If you write without outlines you probably find that you often get stuck on a certain point and can’t move forward. An outline will let you progressively flesh out the whole paper without hitting the dreaded writer’s block. Use an outline to strategically place your quotes and make sure they’re all well-supported. The word you should always be keeping in mind is “because”. Every claim you make should be “because of” several examples from your sources. Every quote should have a “he says this because…” A good rule to follow is this: If you can’t think of any “because”s for a certain idea, it should not be in your paper. Once you have an outline all you need to do is fill it in with transitions and topic sentences.
Tip #2: Half the time you don’t even need to write an outline yourself. Use your professor’s assignment as the outline. They’ll usually give you 3 to 10 points they want covered so use them as your talking points.
Tip #3: Regarding topic sentences — it should be possible to read only the first and last sentences of every paragraph and still understand what your paper is saying. Not only should they capture the point of the paragraph but they should also indicate how one paragraph leads to another.
Tip #4: The introduction and conclusion paragraphs should be the last things you write. In the natural course of writing a paper you will almost definitely think of new ideas or reach conclusions that didn’t occur to you when you set out. If you get too attached to your original intro and thesis statement, you risk fudging your results to fit your hypothesis when you should really be making your thesis fit your findings. Your introduction should be written like you’re trying to explain the paper to a friend who doesn’t know anything about the topic. On the other hand, your conclusion should be written like you’re trying to explain to your professor why your paper is important.
Tip #5: When doing your research, keep a text file (Word, Notepad, etc.) open and transcribe passages from books or articles with page numbers. Not just quotes you intend to use but the key points in every source so that you can review them easily without going back to the book every time. A good writer will stop occasionally to summarize succinctly his notes. Collect these key sentences in your notes and you will always have an easy guide to each of your sources, plus the fact that simply writing it all down will help it stick in your brain. About 90% of what you’ve copied out won’t make it into your paper (I sometimes wind up with 30 pages of notes for a 15-page paper), but you will be able to easily copy and paste quotes into your paper and remember how they fit into the original article so you don’t risk misinterpreting.