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How to Ace Your Paper

Updated on February 1, 2016

Let’s set the scene your grade in Intro to Psychology of Child Development is slipping into the C range and you need to raise it back up to a B so you can keep your average. How are you going to do it? You’re going to ace the next paper that’s how! Well that’s the plan at least, but you’ve been sitting in front of a blank word document for the past hour and a half. Maybe you’ve opened a notebook to “review the material”, or maybe you’re really ambitious and opened the textbook. It doesn’t matter though, no matter what you do all you can think is, “Why am I even in this class!”

You can deny it all you want, but let’s face it you found yourself here. If it wasn’t for this article you would have continued falling into the internet void and never get back to your paper. Don’t worry though, we’ll get you back on track. You’re in good hands. You’re going to finish this paper. You might even have fun doing it.

1. Prepare to Work

Alright, if you have a notebook open you’re ahead of the game. If not, go get your notebook. Pull out any and all relevant information you have on the assignment. Arrange your notebooks, handouts, textbooks, and whatever else you need on your desk, bed, bathroom floor, or wherever you plan on working. It doesn’t matter where you are as long as you have your class material with you. That being said, if you’re on the bathroom floor you might be in more trouble than the rest of us.


Okay now that you have everything neatly laid out find the writing prompt. Unless you’re in an English class it probably won’t say prompt, but you should have some sort of rubric or hand out explaining what your maniacal professor demands from you. Find this and read it. Yep read the whole thing. Now that you’ve read it, go through and underline the most important parts. At the very least this should be the topic. You’ll probably want to underline things about the number of sources, format, and what you’ll be graded on.


2. Put on pants

Look down. Where are your pants? I know it’s cozy and the sensation air flowing through your genitals is relaxing, but you’re not trying to take a nap. You’re trying to get shit done, and ironically the only way you’re cranking this shit out is by putting on pants. Before you do that smell yourself. Do you stink? Did you just roll out of bed and expect to write a top tier paper? Well you can’t. You have to be in the right state of mind to write a paper. This is work and you have to treat it as such.


Get up from your work station and take a shower and put on pants. You don’t need an hour long steam session, but you should take an enjoyable shower. While you’re scrubbing the previous night away think about the prompt you just read. Think about what you know about the topic, and what you don’t. This will help you come up with topical ideas for research.

3. Outline

Now that you are clean, dressed for working, and have given the paper some light thought it’s time to get down to some real work. This step is the most involved, and difficult part of writing the paper. Grab the prompt and break the topic into three or four smaller topics. Next, take these topics and write down some notes about each. These can be things you know about the topic or questions you have about them. You should have something that looks similar to this.


Topic: Procrastination at the college level

  1. Why do students procrastinate?
    1. Because the internet
    2. Doing nothing is easier than doing something
  2. Common methods of Procrastination
    1. Imgur
    2. Netflix
  3. How to overcome procrastination
    1. By putting on pants?
    2. I don’t know?

This is a simple example of an outline, but you get the idea. It’s ok to admit you don’t know something, or to have questions in your outline because you’re about to do research. If you have note cards get those out if not just use your notebook. The note cards are preferable because you can write down the website and notes on where you found the info on one side and on the other you can take typical notes.

4. Research and Take Notes

When you start researching be sure you are using acceptable websites. Typically sites like about.com and Wikipedia are not allowed because the sites are updated too regularly to be tracked. The best way to make sure you are getting reliable sources is to search for “.edu” sites. On google and bing (don’t use bing) you can do this by typing “site:.edu” in the search bar.

When you actually take notes, keep them short and sweet. There isn’t an exact number of note cards you will need just be sure to have enough notes to turn each sub category into a paragraph. If you find out, you need more information on a topic you can always return to the source. It’s not going anywhere.

5. Regroup

You’ve been working for a little bit now. You have your outline completed and notes ready to go all that’s left in putting your thoughts down on paper. I suggest you take a quick break right here. Give your mind a chance to rest and regroup. If you have the opportunity to gather your things and set up camp in a local coffee shop. If that’s too hipster for you, head to a burger place or the library.


The point is to find a location you are comfortable enough to work in. The act of walking, or driving, there will force your mind to focus on a new task allowing you to return to the project with renewed focus. Yes, you could stay home for your break, but then you have to worry about timing yourself. It’s just too easy to get caught up binge watching Jessica Jones, or get sucked into the dark hole of dank memes.

6. Just Write

Once your resituated, pull out your laptop and dive right in. Don’t worry about an introductory paragraph just skip straight to the body of your paper. Keep your outline close, and your notes closer. This way you can glance down to see where you are, and keep on track. You don’t want your paper to be top or bottom heavy.

Don’t worry too much about spelling and grammar, you’ll catch that when you proofread. Don’t even worry about in text citation. Just make a mark like ( ) where ever you will need to site something. The important thing is that you keep writing. If it’s a long paper it’s perfectly fine to allow yourself a five-minute break between topics, but be sure you don’t lose steam. It’s much harder to restart after a long break than it was to initially start.

Once you finish the body paragraphs be sure to go back and write a good introduction paragraph. Treat this like a movie trailer for your paper. Give a glimpse of what the paper is going to be about, and point out your main points. It’s ok to have a bit of fun in this paragraph. Similarly, your conclusion paragraph should wrap up your points. Treat it like the end of an infomercial, and show of your product, or main points, one last time. Also, it’s ok to give your opinion on the topic here.

7. Distraction

Congratulations your paper is basically done. You can kick back and relax for an hour or two. Go get yourself a reward. Just don’t fall asleep, or take off your pants. There’s still a bit of work left, but you did good. Trust me the worst is behind you. Now, go watch a movie you sweet son of a bitch, you!

8. Proofread

Now that your movie is over it’s time to get back to work. Pull up your paper and read it, or at least skim it. You’re primarily looking for factual errors. However, if you find grammatical errors feel free to fix them. Next, pull out the sheet you wrote your sources on and go through, and fill in the ( ) marks with your in text citations. I find it’s faster if you do one source at a time. When you finish that grab your prompt and make sure everything is in the proper format. If it’s not, it should only take you about three seconds to fix. Five seconds tops.

Now for the easy time saving steps you could go through and proof read. Followed by writing your bibliography by hand. Please don’t. It’s much easier to use paper rater and Easy Bib. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could double check the results with Purdue OWL.

9. Turn it in

It sounds simple enough, but be sure to turn it in. Print it out or submit it online right away. Although I suggest you skim over it one last time. You never know what simple mistake you could have missed. Other than that you’re done. Yeah, so go party, or take a nap. Personally I suggest the nap, but you know to each their own. You can do whatever you want now because you kicked that papers ass. Probably aced it.


Your welcome.

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For more of my writing follow me on twitter @kphillips97

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