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Students would spend hours researching and writing a paper on a completely different topic than what the professor assigned.
I never created an outline with bullets and numbers and letters before writing the paper.
I always just made one up afterwards because I was to turn one in with the final paper.
Remember: asking for clarification because you don’t understand the assignment doesn’t make you stupid; what’s stupid is to complete the assignment without understanding it.
Yet, when I was an English TA in college, I saw this problem all the time.
Even as someone who basically writes papers for a living these days (like this article), I still viewed every college paper with a tinge of dread.
After all, writing a paper isn’t like working math problems or reading a chapter of a book.
You discover what you’re going to say through the process of writing.
The flat outline gives you just enough structure to overcome the dreaded “blank canvas” while still leaving room for discovery.
As frustrating as those activities can be, they always seemed more finite than the monumental task of “writing a paper.” You can’t just open the book and start working: you have to brainstorm, research, outline, draft, edit, and add those pesky citations.
As I moved through college, however, I developed a system for cranking out papers in record time.