Writing Papers

Writing a paper is not a single act; it is a process with several phases.  Each phase is as important as the next.  A recommended process is outlined below.

Overview of the Writing Process

Note that there are other variations; what follows is simply one version:

  1. Choose a topic and then determine a focus
  2. Gather information (research)
  3. Organize ideas
    • start with a simple outline that captures the main ideas, then simply continue to add detail
    • an example is provided below that shows 3 phases
  4. Write the paper
    • create the rough draft – grammar and format be damned ... for the moment
    • be sure to include your citations as you write as it is VERY difficult to do so once you have finished writing (see Citing Sources for details)
  5. Edit, edit, edit (this is the stage to correct the grammar, spelling, etc., ALSO be sure the paper has a logical flow)
  6. Create/refine the support pieces (charts, diagrams, bibliography, etc.)
  7. Prepare the final version

Details on the Writing Process

  1. Topic and Focus – A topic is a broad subject, e.g. Partial Harvest Systems.  A focus aims at a specific and significant aspect of the topic, e.g. Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest Systems in Coastal BC.  If you do not narrow your topic to a well-defined focus, you will likely produce a vague and superficial paper.

  2. Gather Information - How information is to be gathered will be governed by the project (course) objectives.  It may be a literature review or it may entail gathering information directly.  Details regarding this phase will be dictated by your specific situation.

  3. Organize Ideas – This is a critical step – perhaps the most critical!  If you were directed to construct a ‘working model of a human body’, you would likely have greatest success if you first built the skeleton and then attached the muscle (and finally the skin).  The same is true for writing.  Creating an outline provides the skeleton.  After the skeleton is complete, then you attach the muscle (i.e. write the body of the paper); then you attach the skin (i.e. final editing, page numbering, citations, etc.).

    Creating the outline of the paper provides structure and enables clear communication.  You are encouraged to use a 3-step process to create an outline, each more detailed than the last. 

    Basic Outline – contains only the main ideas.    An example follows:

    Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest Systems in Coastal BC
    1.0) Introduction
    2.0) Singletree Partial Harvest Systems (suggest 3-6 sub sections)
    2.1) Reasons to Undertake Singletree Partial Harvest
    2.2) Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest
    2.3) Possible Solutions
    3.0) Conclusion

    Skeleton Outline – the skeleton outline adds some insight as to what you will be discussing.  Note that each section heading (e.g. 1.1 Background) represents one paragraph to several paragraphs (to be written later) .  A partial example follows:

    Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest Systems in Coastal BC
    1.0) Introduction
    1.1) Background
    1.2) Issues/Problems
    1.3) Range of Viewpoints  

    2.1) Reasons to Undertake Singletree Partial Harvest
    2.1.1) Social Reasons
    2.1.2) Environmental Reasons

    2.2) Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest
    2.2.1) Regeneration
    2.2.2) Growth & Yield
    2.2.3) High-Grading
    2.2.4) Forest Health

    Point-Form Outline – this is the first step in ‘hanging meat on the bones’.  The point form outline is designed as an intermediate step between planning and writing.  It is here where you identify your key ideas and supporting information.  A partial example follows:

    Issues Regarding Singletree Partial Harvest Systems in Coastal BC
    1.0) Introduction
    1.1) Background
    - traditional/European approach to singletree
    - adaptation by the forest industry in BC
    1.2) Issues/Problems
    - reduced growth of regeneration due to shade
    - possible high-grading of timber/species profile
    - increased incidence of dwarf mistletoe and root disease
    1.3) Range of Viewpoints  
    - government perspective
    - general public perspective
    - industry perspective

    ** Note - this is a process that allows you to first structure/organize your paper, and then add details - research is an obvious and integral part of this process.

  4. Rough Draft - As you can see, by completing the point-form outline, your paper is essentially done.  All you need to do is expand on this detailed outline.  At this stage you should write with little regard for grammar (damn the grammar, full speed ahead).  Just get your ideas out on paper – you will ‘fix it’ later.

  5. Edit, edit, and edit again – This is where you ensure that what you wrote is actually what you intended to say.  Remember at first that you are primarily editing for clarity of your paper, then you edit for grammar & spelling. 

    • Is there a logical flow to your thoughts or are ideas somewhat scattered? 
    • Is there good transition between the primary ideas? 
    • Only after this is done do you worry about grammar and spelling (otherwise you will waste time)
  6. Bits and Pieces – This is the stage where you refine the supporting bits and pieces (charts, tables, diagrams, images, etc.) that complete your report.  This can be a time consuming process – budget for it.  NOTE: you should be collecting and organizing this data throughout the whole writing process - I just thought I would draw attention to it to be sure it gets done.

  7. Final Report – If you have followed the process, this is now a small, but still important step.  All the serious work has been done.  Now you put on the polish (page numbering, table of contents, etc.).  Failure to put on the polish will likely result in a sizable (possibly unfair?) drop in mark.  There are two common mistakes to avoid

    • putting more effort on polish than substance (your report looks good but is ineffective)
    • failure to properly 'finish' the report to a professional standard (report is well conceived and communicated but looks 'sloppy')

    You need to find the balance.

It is important to note that some of these phases may 'overlap' (i.e.  you will likely be editing some portions of the paper while still researching other sections).  It is also likely that what you do will vary from the process proposed.  However, having a structured game plan can be invaluable to undertaking a sizable writing project. We hope this helps you in your efforts!

Peer Review

Once you have completed the report, you should consider having a friend or relative read it to see if the report is well organized and logical with few grammatical or spelling errors.  Have you explained the concepts as well as you think?  Have you addressed what you stated you would in your introductory paragraph?

Need Help

VIU has a Writing Centre to review and provide constructive comments on student papers.  An appointment is needed; so do not procrastinate and try to get help the day before a paper is due.


Writing Guides - from Colorado State University

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