Dear Master’s Programs student,
No one would try to bake a cake with steps in the wrong order (e.g. icing before baking), or skipping steps altogether (e.g. not mixing the batter). So why do we try to write a paper in this same haphazard manner? Probably because many of us don’t see writing as a process, but as one act: sitting at the keyboard to plan, write, and edit simultaneously. Taking the time to move through the process of writing will yield better papers—and better grades.
Below you’ll find steps one through three to a better paper.
Step 1: Understanding the prompt (or know your recipe)
Just as a cake recipe differs from a pie recipe, the directions for a personal reflection
aren’t the same as literature review directions. Make sure you understand exactly what your professor is asking for, and be sure you’re addressing all aspects of your assignment.
Step 2: Brainstorm (or go grocery shopping)
You can’t make a cake without breaking a few eggs, and you can’t break those eggs if you don’t have them yet. Before you start writing, be sure you’ve spent the time and brainpower to gather those “eggs,” or ideas. It’s easy to skip over this step, but you must start with quality ingredients for a good product. Don’t write what’s obvious; do the real work of pondering the issues your paper will address.
Step 3: Organize (or mix)
A good chef doesn’t just throw everything together in a bowl; instead, she carefully mixesdry and wet ingredients separately, then combines them with skillful whisking. In the same way, organizing your paper is more than just writing your ideas in the order in which you think of them. It’s important to sequence your paragraphs in a logical way that will help (not hinder) your reader’s understand of your points.
Next week: steps four to six.
Until then, happy writing!