Writing you academic paper

With a good writing process you avoid getting stuck while writing an academic paper.

This page can be used when you want to use your writing to develop your thoughts behind a paper or want to speed up your writing process. The page will inform you about how to generate ideas, give you advice about your writing proces and provide several tools for different activities when writing your academic paper.

Tools for writing

In the following you will be presented with two tools for different activities when writing your academic paper:

  • Free Writing - should be used when you want to write effectively or experience writers block.
  • Cubing - should be used when you want to look at a topic from different perspectives.

Furthermore you can use the tool Scribo when you want to proces initial ideas about your paper and want to structure your research - you will find Scribo in connection with the subject 'Research Question' below.

Advice on writing academic papers

There is not necessarily a right order in which to do things in your writing proces since reading and thinking and planning happen a bit simultaneously.

Once you have your research question sorted out and your supervisor in place your logical next step is to work out an outline of your paper and read up on literature. Work out a problem statement, based on which you can set up an outline, incl. chapter suggestions, and start compiling a preliminary, commented bibliography.

1) Start early

It is not a bad idea to start thinking about what you might want to write about early. Take advantage of your (spare) time to see whether your idea fits you and get comfortable with it – or think of another topic.

If you have an idea for a Master's thesis several semesters in advance, you have time to read and collect material “on the side” and let some ideas sink in at leisure – before you have to think of your thesis in terms of a strict 4-6 month deadline.

2) Choose an interesting topic

Base the topic of a paper or thesis on something you find interesting, and start thinking of a topic early. Ideally, your idea for a topic for a paper or thesis will be based on something you find interesting:

  • something you already know a bit about
  • something you want to find out or learn more about
  • something you feel you can use in your future employment.

Note that special restrictions apply when you write about related work you have already done to make sure you do not duplicate your own work. Check the academic regulations for your study programme.

Below an experienced professor from the Department of Aesthetics and Communication gives advice on choosing a topic:

 

3) Read and write simultaneously

Often one can be tempted to keep reading and reading, adding more sources, hoping to know everything in advance. This is not a bad ambition but can eventually become a delaying factor, holding off the time when you have to sit and write your own text.

Some may be more comfortable working most things out in advance of putting pen to paper. Others will move sooner to the writing phase, filling in additional sources as needed and setting aside time to thoroughly edit the text afterwards. This strategy is called “process writing” which is a good tool to combat a writing block.

4) Avoid getting stuck

Should you have trouble getting started, keeping up your writing or get hit by a writer's block, never struggle on your own. Use a study group before you get seriously stuck. Your supervisor may help you find a balance between study/reading and writing.

Part of the content of this page was written by Inger H. Dalsgaard, Associate Professor, PhD, Department of Aesthetics and Communication, Aarhus University.

Brainstorm & Mindmapping

Brainstorming and mindmapping are effective ways to generate ideas for your academic assignments or final thesis.

Brainstorming is a method of writing that enables you to open up your mind and see where it takes you.

  1. Start by defining a topic for your brainstorm.
  2. Then write down whatever you can think of in connection to it.

Your text may contain questions, answers, ideas and even words or sentences that do not seem to be connected to the topic. Write everything down and then select the useful ideas when you are done.

Mind Mapping - organise your ideas

Mind mapping gives you a chance to organise your ideas and clarify the connections between different aspects of your argumentation and your paper as a whole.

  1. You start by writing a key word or phrase on a large piece of paper. This word or phrase forms the root from which all your other notes will branch out.
  2. You then write down your ideas, thoughts and arguments around the main word or phrase and connect them to each other by lines.

This can give you a new perspective on how to structure your paper as it allows you to see how the different notions and arguments fit together.

Research questions

Your initial research question or problem statement should ideally say in broad terms what your primary material are and what the methods, tools and angles you intend to apply will be.

Even if you don't have all the answers to what your final analysis might show (but only a hunch or impression until you get deeper into your material), you can say something about what your primary material for analysis is and what kind of angle or methods you might use.

On the basis of those initial choices, initial findings and your hypothesis you can also suggest what your interpretation and conclusion might include.

Be prepared for changes

You may well find that once you start work on your material in earnest both smaller and larger changes will be made. As you set up an outline, search for materials or start writing text and it is not unusual to discover your first thesis statement can be improved upon. This is not a problem, just run your new ideas past your supervisor during discussions to get feedback on such decisions.

EXAMPLES OF INITIAL THESIS STATEMENTS

EXAMPLES OF CHANGES IN INITIAL THESIS STATEMENTS

"I want to analyze and compare 3 of President Obama's State of the Union addresses, using both rhetorical and literary analyses to say something about how these speeches operate both as political and as cultural 'texts'"

Maybe you come to realize that your interpretation will be more dynamic if you compare a State of the Union address with other types of speeches to say something about the different rhetorical and literary requirements or traditions in play for different occasions.
"I want to analyze the film My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011) comparing its visual language or methods with selected photographs from the period and with The Prince and the Showgirl (Laurence Olivier, 1957) to interpret the significance of similarities and differences in the way the image of Marilyn Monroe is presented." Maybe your search for secondary texts means you stumble upon a new book about the feminine iconography of Marilyn Monroe which gives your study a clearer theoretical angle which is slanted more towards gender studies than film analysis.
"I will compare the postmodern narrative techniques and race themes in Toni Morrison's 3 novels The Bluest Eye (1970), Beloved (1987) and A Mercy (2008) and interpret how these texts illustrate a change in her literary strategies for portraying African Americans over the span of her career." Maybe you find as you start writing that you need to spend more space setting up postmodern narrative techniques or slave narratives as genre in recent American literature. You might choose instead to drop one of your three Morrison novels because it is no longer central to your point or because there is less room for analysis of primary texts as the balance swings towards explanations of a theory.


Use Scribo to formulate your research question

Scribo is an interactive tool that helps you improve your assignments, exams and the final thesis.

Scribo is an interactive tool which supplies suggestions and information on research papers and library searches.

With a dialogue of 28 questions sequenced to supply the work-in-progress, Scribo helps you to process initial ideas and structure the research. Scribo further assists with supervision and helps you conduct a literature search.

 

Students from Aarhus University can access Scribo via their online self service login. Press the icon "Login using WAYF" and use your self service login.

If you are having problems with Scribo you can contact the publisher at slforlagene@samfundslitteratur.dk

 

The content of this page is based on the working paper by Flemming Harrits from the Nordic Department, Aarhus University, and translated by Iris Galili.

Tool: Free Writing

Free writing is a method for efficient writing. Practise free writing with an interactive exercise and get feedback on your use of the method.

You may find it difficult to get started on your academic paper. Instead of trying to write the perfect version of the final text at once, it may be a good idea to do some pre-writing in order to express your ideas and main points down.

Free writing helps you develop your arguments and theories and you can use it to focus your paper. 
This way of writing enables you to get a hold of what is in your head.

Exercise

 

Free writing can help you to become a more efficient and productive writer.

During normal writing, a lot of time is spent checking the screen correcting spelling. This is not actual writing.

By using free writing, you make the process more efficient. The method requires uninterrupted writing for a set period of time.

You can sit down and write whenever you have planned to do this. Free writing does not require inspiration or a lot of time. Just set your mind to it and start writing.

New ideas

Free writing uses the act of writing as a tool for stimulating the thought process. This method can improve your written work as it will often give you new ideas to work with.

You will produce a larger amount of written work, and can therefore choose the best parts of this for the final product.

Can I use it in my paper?

Free writing does not provide you with a piece of text that you can use directly in your paper, but it may give you some good ideas and bring out thoughts that you did not even know you had. 

The subject of your free writing will normally be academic, i.e., the topic of your assignment, what the main issue/problem of the assignment should be, how you can develop a certain chapter further.

You can familiarise yourself with the free writing method by writing about any topic that you have some knowledge of. The interactive free writing exercise allows you to select your own topic or choose one from a list.

If you get stuck

It is important to avoid stopping the free writing, even if you cannot think of anything else to write. Instead, write that you have run out of ideas, or write the name of the topic a few times.

If you keep writing, you will often find that the ideas start to flow again – ideas you would not have had if you had stopped the exercise.

Try again

Some people find it challenging to produce text without continually revising and correcting it.

Perhaps you felt you did not gain very much from free writing after trying it for the first time. If this is the case, keep trying and see how things go. Like all other things, free writing can be learnt.

Once you have got to know the method, you can use it when writing assignments. Open a document in your word processing programme, switch off the monitor, set a stopwatch – and write.

Tool: Cubing

Cubing allows you to look at a topic from different perspectives, and it is a good way to examine the topic you have chosen for your paper.

The cube has six sides and each side represents an aspect of your topic. Cubing lets you examine the strengths and weaknesses of the topic you have chosen for your academic paper.

The topic you explore may for instance be a theoretical concept, an event or a piece of art.

Using this method of working with your text may inspire you to get new ideas and new realisations when it comes to the structure and argumentation of your final paper.

 

  • Step 1: Describe the topic of your paper

  • Step 2: Compare your topic to other topics. How is it the same? How is it different?

  • Step 3: Which associations do you get from the topic? What does it make you think of?

  • Step 4: Which parts constitute your topic? How do these parts fit together?

  • Step 5: How can your topic be used? What can it clarify?

  • Step 6: Which arguments can be made for and against your topic? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your topic?



Useful links:

Academic writing:


The content of this page is written by Iris Galili.