Students write papers using very different techniques. Some students do their research and put that research directly into the paper. Some take notes or make index cards and then transfer those notes to the paper. Some just sit down and write (please do not do this).
I want to tell you about the absolute best way to write a research paper. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but if you perfect this technique, you will write well-organized papers in an extremely efficient fashion. You will also not worry as much about making the page or word limit since you are working to organize content as you are doing your research. If done correctly, the page count will fall into place. Trust me on this one. Below is my advice for writing a paper, especially a longer paper.
Make an Outline -> Make an outline in a Word document and include everything you think you need to address in the order you think would be most organized. You do not want to have a handwritten outline because that will force you to record the same information twice; once handwritten and once into the outline or paper. Use a normal Roman numeral outlining system making sure that you start with an introduction and end with a conclusion. Be sure to look at the syllabus or handout that the professor gives you and use that to guide your outline. Listen to what the professor has to say when they are going over the paper in class.
After you start researching, you will have an outline with headings that flow together and flow logically. Remember, you are telling a story about your topic and it needs to make sense. For example, if you were writing a paper about the presidency, you would not talk about the current state of the presidency without first talking about presidential history, right? If you are at all unsure about your outline or even if you think it is perfect, bring it to the professor for their feedback. Make sure you either take great notes in that meeting or bring your laptop so you can modify the outline as you are talking about it. For only thirty minutes of your time, why wouldn’t you?
Read Your First Source and Take Notes Directly into your Outline -> Now, read your first source. As you encounter any information you feel should be in your paper, type this information into your outline under the specific heading or subheading that it belongs in. Then cite the work right where you put it in whichever citing system you are using (i.e. APA). Now go back to the source you are reading and as you come across the next piece of information do the same thing. Rinse and repeat until you have finished reading that single source. You should find that you have used that source in several distinct areas in your paper. Now, start a reference page and write in the correct reference.
Read the Rest of Your Sources and Take Notes Directly into your Outline -> Follow this exact same pattern for each source you read. Whether it be a book, website or academic journal, take notes right into the outline as you go, cite in the outline as you go and then put the entire citation into your reference page. If you have to add or delete headings or subheadings as you go, feel free to do so. If you do, make sure you keep a sharp eye on the outline to assure that it is still organized in the way you need it to be so it flows smoothly from topic to topic.
Write Your Paper -> When your outline is done, all you need to do is to make sentences and paragraphs within each major section and subsections. You have already written the paper in outline form so now all you have to do is clean it up, synthesize the information, and write more formally. Just look at all the notes you have written from all your different sources and put them together to make one cohesive section. Then do the same for all the sections in the paper. Just make sure you are making sense of your notes rather than just putting them in the paper in a particular order.
Your paper will be properly organized because you paid attention to it from the start. You will also have taken all your notes and they should all be in their relevant sections. You have written them directly into what will be your paper rather than writing them on cards or in your notebook and then transferring them. Professors love organized papers!
You have read and taken notes in one step rather than two steps. Why take three hours per source rather than two hours? Your time is valuable and so why waste it?
You cited in your outline and when you transfer the information into the paper itself, there is no need to go back to look at the sources themselves because you wrote the cite in your outline next to the notes that you took from it.
Since you completed your reference page at the same time you did your research, it’s done as well!
You’ll save so much time writing papers in this way. It takes getting used to but as you’ve read on CollegeCures and other sites, you have to re-learn how to study and successfully navigate college compared to high school. This system is incredibly efficient. By practicing and honing this process, you will save countless hours writing papers. I have been using this technique in my academic writing for my entire career and it has saved me more time than I could tell you.