How to write an academic paper and not die out of panic in the process?
It’s the middle of night and the panic slowly overtakes you as you struggle to write the next sentence of your first academic paper. For a non-native speaker writing an academic paper can be a nightmare – but it’s also a requirement at many of Swedish universities. Here are tips and tricks that help me when I am stressing over the deadline looking at a blank screen.
1. FIND BACKUP
I always start with finding as many relevant sources as possible. I try looking briefly through them to get the main idea of the content (eg. just reading abstracts). I read a few that seem the most important. Only after having a general idea of what has been already said I look back to my own project and try to establish what do I want to say that could contribute to the discussion. Then I create a working title that I will look back to during my work – to remember what is going to be the essence of my paper.
I never start writing before I create an overall structure. For writing a report-style paper I may use generic one: introduction (with aim and research question), theory, state-of-art examples, method, process, results and findings, evaluation, conclusion, references. But it may be a bit harder if you are trying to write a more original paper, focused on specific idea. What I do in this situation is to write down the keywords for all the most important things I want to say, most characteristic positive qualities of the project, new ideas for the field… Then I look at them trying to find connections and figure out a logical flow. Arranged keywords create a structure of the paper, each representing one paragraph.
3. COUNT YOUR NUMBERS
Another thing I do before I start writing is to count the number of paragraphs I plan to write according to my preliminary structure. Then I divide the average number of words from requirements by the number of chapters. For instance if I have to write a 2000-4000 words essay that I written down 20 paragraph keywords for, I know that I should write about 150 words per paragraph, which allows me to focus on one at a time.
4. CALL A FRIEND
Ask a friend for feedback on your work. Possibly proof-read it by a fluent or native speaker. Just make sure that it all makes sense in someone’s else head too.
5. PUBLISH THE GOOD WORK
You got a really good feedback from a teacher? Do you think that the idea behind the paper was really valuable and contributes to the field? Don’t be afraid to submit your work to a student conference! Since you have the paper already written it won’t take you much time and you can gain valuable experience of presenting your work at a conference, getting feedback and an exclusive look into the world of academia. A published work will look great on your CV, but most importantly will give you an immense level of satisfaction! (And a good reason to celebrate!)
Those are a few rules I follow when writing an academic paper. They seem to be working just fine: this week I am presenting my first individual paper at a conference! But if you need a step-by-step introduction instead of just tips and tricks check out this video course from Lund University, that explains the process in greater detail.