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How I Do It: Paper Writing Tips

It is only the third week of the semester and I already feel underwater. In addition to my teaching responsibilities and my usual coursework, I have also been feverishly working on a conference paper. The fact that it is a paper that will be presented to a room of people I hope will some day hire me, this paper comes with extra pressure to say something meaningful.

I am sure you can all relate–writing is terrifying! Every time I sit down to work I am paralyzed by fears of failure and ineptitude (who isn’t?). But writing, no matter your major, is a life skill we all need to master! So I thought I would share my paper writing tips.
1. Stop procrastinating and start writing!
We all do it. You sit down to write and then you remember the thousand other things you need to do, and before you know it four hours are gone, your house is spotless, checkbook balanced, laundry clean, and you have written bubkiss. Writing is the act of thinking. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to say, you just need to start writing. Which leads me to point number two…
2. Your first draft WILL ALWAYS BE TERRIBLE, and that’s ok.
That’s why they call it a first draft. Take the pressure off yourself and just sit down and write. Every writer begins with a less than stellar first draft. But trust me, if you start there (and give yourself enough time to revise) it will improve, and you will have something meaningful to say.
3. Don’t start with the introduction.
The introduction and the conclusion are the hardest parts of any paper to write, so why start there? Start with the easy stuff, the body of your paper. Once you have written your first draft you will have thought about your paper on a deeper level, making it easier to craft and argument, a.k.a. your thesis, a.k.a. the most important part of your introduction. The rest will flow from there.
4. Give yourself enough time.
Writing, thinking, and revising take time. You will not be able to do it the night before, even if you pull an all-nighter. I don’t care if you “work better under pressure,” good writing takes time and that’s all there is to it!
5. Keep it simple.
For some reason people think that “sounding smart” requires long and complex sentences. Unfortunately, longer and more complex sentences only undermine your paper’s clarity. Put the thesaurus down and simply say what you mean!
Now if I could only take my own advice! Anybody else have some great paper writing tips?