How to Write Academic Papers: For Students.

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How to Write Academic Papers: For Students.

Faisal Albasu's photo
Faisal Albasu
·Aug 14, 2022·

3 min read

I’m thinking of starting a series where I just publish some of my raw or lightly edited notes from books I’ve read or I’m currently reading. I have a couple of them, but having this would also keep me grounded and force me to take notes on more on stuff I’m reading.

The first one I have here is from Thomas Frank’s book, 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades which I read around October last year. It’s step no.9 on writing better papers. The notes here are just me trying to summarize what I learned immediately after reading a chapter or section along with some of my thoughts and examples if I’m already doing it or something similar to it.

So, here goes.

Write better Papers(Step 9)

Thomas starts with talking about how his English teacher gave them six essays in a week and how that helped him ultimately become a better writer.

Some of the tips he gave on writing better papers include:

  • Do a Brain Dump: Here's where you squeeze every little idea out of your brain into a paper or a note-taking app. This is the one I usually find hardest to do because whenever I make a typo or I'm not sure about how I wrote a sentence or a paragraph, I always go back and try to edit, which(I'm literally doing it now!!!) might lead to some of the ideas getting lost while trying to think of a better way to word out something.

  • Develop a Focus and Key Questions: This is the one I did recently with the paper I'm writing. When you have a focus on what you want to write it can help narrow down the research for you. Then use that to come up with guiding questions that you'd like to answer.

  • Conduct better Research: This one is pretty obvious but at the same time the most confusing. How do you conduct better research,? well, Thomas here borrowed a bit from Cal Newport's book How to become a straight-A student.

    1. Find sources
    2. Make personal copies of all sources
    3. Annotate the material
    4. Decide if you're done

Also, avoid falling into what Cal called the "research recursion" where you never finish looking for sources. I recently fell into this rabbit hole researching for my paper and it took me a long time to realize that I already have enough sources to start writing the paper. Another tip Thomas gave which I overlooked but never knew is so effective is using the power of Wikipedia. I remember seeing somewhere that the use of Wikipedia is prohibited when writing academic papers but it never dawned on me that most Wikipedia sources are gotten from other scholarly papers. After getting your sources from Wikipedia references, you can also use standard journal databases to get more sources. I'll list some of my favorite ones below.

After getting your sources, now it's time to make copies but since we're in 2021 where almost everything is now online, let me say save the sources, either in your note-taking app, or download it to your computer and save it in a folder for the paper you're writing.

After that, what Thomas recommends is a rough skim of the sources and take short notes and annotations of the paper.

Lastly, borrowed from Cal is deciding whether you're done, which he suggests making you have at least two sources that support your main facts and points that are crucial to support your thesis. For non-crucial points, one source is okay.

Resources for finding quality papers:

Connected Papers - It shows you a graph of other papers that are similar to your research topic.

Arxiv - A free and open-source database for open access research

Google Scholar - Google search but for research.

Semantic Scholar - An AI powered research tool

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