Writing What You Don’t Know

The quote I hear the most when I’m talking to other writers is this:

Write what you know.

The truth is, you can only go so far with what you know. Eventually you need to go through research and organize it in a way to make you look good. When you are working on an academic paper, you have to make yourself look good to the teacher.

So here are some pointers on how to work with what you don’t know, most of which I’ll go into further this month.

Start with your topic.

What your topic is and how it is worded determines how you go at this paper more than you think. Is it asking you a question you have to answer? Is it the incitement of an argument? Is it asking you to explain a process or describe how something works?

Ask questions of your instructor.

Knowing what your instructor is looking for will narrow down your research options a little bit. Are they looking for something closer to an analysis or are they looking more into the why or how of the topic? They will also answer any questions that you have as to formatting styles that they want for your paper.

Research before you outline.

You can’t really organize information that you don’t have. Also doing research is the best way to form an educated opinion that is solid. And that applies to outside of writing papers as well.

Quick write what you know already.

Just see how far you can get with what you know already. From there you can figure out what direction you want to go with your research. This way you can have a starting point for your paper and go from there.

Make sure you have the right format.

Though this can depend on subject, but make sure that this is one of the questions you ask your teacher. I have seen a few classmates end up failing a paper that was perfect just from turning it in the wrong format.

Edit like the wind!

This I cannot stress enough. You have to edit your paper until it is perfect, and then send it to someone to proofread long before you give it to your teacher. Some schools offer a tutoring program that involves proofreading papers and giving you tips on how to improve it. Don’t forget that you also need to go over to be sure that all facts are correct, sources are credited, and definitions are with the right word.

One last thing to remember is that your research is meant to do one awesome thing: turning what you don’t know into something that you know and know well.

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2 thoughts on “Writing What You Don’t Know

  1. That format one is important! I always told my HS English students if they used anything other than Times New Roman 12pt double-spaced with 1″ margins, I’d assume they were trying to pull something over on me in their paper content and I’d grade theirs especially hard.

    Also – make sure you cite your sources! Lots of places consider plagiarism to be an automatic zero on the paper and sometimes in the course as well. And don’t forget to take the hyperlinks out if you’re copying and pasting directly form Wikipedia; it’s kind of a dead giveaway (yes, I had students do this and then deny it when I called them on it).

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