A writer peering ahead at an academic writing project should respect the task. It not only will require research and writing abilities, it will tax the writer’s endurance and concentration. Learning to become efficient and self-regulating as a researcher and writer is the reason for this series, “7 Ways to Pace Yourself through a Paper.” Each of the suggestions will be presented on the TPS Fan page before being compiled.
若您即將致力于學術寫作專題，應該好好重視這項工作。這不僅需要研究與寫作技巧，也仰賴毅力與專注。「按部就班寫作論文的七大步驟」將教您學會如何自律，提高研究與寫作的效率。每項建議都會刊登在 TPS 粉絲專頁，并在最后集結于 TPS 學術電子報中。
Way # 1 – Recognize pacing and admit you need it
Academic paper projects are not 100-meter dashes. They are marathons. They require intellectual and physical stamina. A writer who understands this stands a far better chance of completing a paper with the same levels of energy and inspiration shown at the beginning of a project. This is a significant advantage, because finishing a paper well is as vital as starting it properly. Burning out, getting off track, lowering standards—these are the results of a writer not pacing himself.
Returning to the running metaphor, sprinters are as strong as long-distance runners. They are as skilled. But they are not conditioned to endure an extended run. In the same way, wonderful essay exam-takers are not necessarily adept at in-depth writing projects. They might lack research skills, the ability to write complex explanations and analyses, or the talent to stay on course over weeks and months of exploring a subject. This is why academic writing assignments are called projects.
So the wisest approach to a “project” is to realize that planning is required to ensure that the project does not overwhelm the writer during its middle or late stages. To acknowledge this possibility is a sign of maturity as a writer. Though you as a writer might be especially bright, brilliance will not overcome disorganization or lack of fortitude. Whereas intellectual vigor coupled to a sustainable work pace can carry a writer across the finish line in a winning effort.
Way # 2 – Embrace deadlines and use them
Every project of every kind—physical or intellectual—has a starting date and a finishing date. The author of a paper can’t begin until a topic is assigned or approved, at which point the clock starts ticking. A date to turn in the paper also is given, which is when the work must be completed. While these two mileposts are helpful in guiding the overall progress of a paper, they are too far apart to keep a writer on course. Interim deadlines are the critical benchmarks.
The midpoint deadlines may vary according to the kind of paper being written. They also might be assigned by a professor with the expectation that the writer will show evidence at each checkpoint of continuing progress. Or a self-reliant writer might take the initiative to establish interim deadlines of his own. Whichever is the case, the interim goals—research done, outline created, first draft completed, and so on—can keep a writer steadily moving ahead.
A seasoned writer will see these interim deadlines as stepping stones, as helpful indicators of a project being on schedule… or not. They let a writer know when he can take a breather from the project or when he needs to put in some overtime. By maintaining a steady pace, the writer will not have to make up ground in a hurry. That kind of crunch-time research and writing should be avoided because it never results in a writer’s best work. Use interim deadlines to pace yourself.
Way # 3 – Develop and employ systems
Writers of academic papers can be as guilty as any other kind of writer in believing that inspiration rules the creative process. While we should never underestimate how much inspiration can contribute to a creative enterprise, the fact is that perspiration and planning also are important to success. After all, creative geniuses whose brains deliver blinding flashes of inspiration often need their work systematically organized, edited, and prepared for publication.
So even if you are a creative genius, your work will only be helped by becoming systematic in your approach to it. Like deadlines, systems are external aids through which a writer can channel his energy. Systems are like doors and stairs and sidewalks: They assist a writer in getting from Point A to Point E—the end. One such system is a work schedule. A writer who systematically works on a project for a set number of hours each designated work day is a disciplined worker.
Another system is organized research and note-taking. A researcher who flips willy-nilly through research volumes, making abstract notes on odd pieces of paper and in margins, is sure to waste time later revisiting the same text. The same is true of a researcher who doesn’t review his findings systematically each day to see where they are taking him. Such reviews can organize a paper in the mind. Being systematic is a key way to pace yourself and conserve your energy.
Way # 4 – Know your writing strengths and weaknesses
The Greeks advised subsequent generations of mankind to “know thyself.” The adage acknowledges the difficulty an individual has in sorting through the many facets of his being and honestly acknowledging his character. We tend to make excuses or to wishfully inflate our abilities. An academic writer is no less prone to glossing over weaknesses. A long-term writing project is no place to fool oneself. Rather, it is when a writer should practice total self-honesty.
Do you have the imagination and predisposition to “see” the general outline of a paper as you research it? Some writers can easily extrapolate what they know and roughly project it into a finished written product before they ever begin the actual word-by-word creative process. Or maybe your strength is your vocabulary. If you are word rich, enrich your paper. (Be careful, though, not to lard your paper with so much erudite language that it begins to get in the way.)
Just as important is to know your weaknesses. Do you have difficulty concentrating for effective lengths of time? Do you write half an hour and then take an hour’s break? This is a problem. Recognize it and either schedule plenty of time for the project or learn to lengthen your focus. Do you habitually and extensively rewrite? Plan to finish a first draft in time to allow for successive ones. In short, pace yourself according to your actual writing skills and habits, not imagined ones.
Way # 5 – Anticipate: Learn to avoid surprises
It is said the best laid plans of mice and men come to naught when the unexpected circumstance intrudes. The moral is, all the careful planning in the world will not guarantee that a writing project will come together without incident. That’s what makes life interesting! Even so, there is no joy in running into an obstacle with a paper’s deadline looming. The best way to avoid such crises is to anticipate them and to build into your schedule time to respond to them.
Example: When compiling a list of sources and citations, look at each one’s potential for rejection. Sometimes a cited source is deemed to be irrelevant to subject matter, perhaps because his authority and credentials have been superseded by more recent research. Or a citation from a document might be discounted because the document lacks academic standing. Be critical of source material so that your professor can’t shock you late in the day by rejecting parts of it.
Also, be an editor as well as a writer. Not only examine your paper for grammar and similar writing issues, examine it for content. Ask yourself tough questions: Is this section weak because I have tried to stretch research material too far? Does the conclusion really work, reflecting the introduction and accurately summarizing the body of the paper? Is that illustration effective or just pretty? If you are tough on yourself along the way, a professor can’t surprise you at the end.
Way # 6 – Beware of breathers, plateaus and other obstacles
An academic writing project can be a slog. The first stage of it sometimes produces anxiety, and only later as the work progresses does exhilaration set in. But at some point the project takes on all the characteristics of work, and a writer begins to think in terms of taking a breather. Beware of breathers. The need to take a breather is a signal that a pace of a project is not sustainable. A correct pace is steady, but not exhausting; regular breathing should be sufficient for the job.
A plateau is another danger point. A plateau occurs when a writer completes a section of research or of writing—and stops. He has climbed a foothill and wants to gaze back upon it. Thus does premature satisfaction become a barrier to progress. It becomes an excuse to hang around rather than press ahead. While interim goals are important in a research-writing project, they are way stations, not ultimate destinations. Dawdling over them leads nowhere.
In short, don’t let a good start on a paper go to waste because you lost your way. Don’t get too satisfied too early. Clearly, solid research by itself is not enough. Neither is a great lead, a content-rich middle section, or a well-organized conclusion. Succeeding in any one of these does not constitute overall success. A professor looks at the complete package, and a writer must do the same. So, take a deep breath, take pride in good work done on a section, and then move on.
Way # 7 – Don’t tire in the homestretch
Every writing project has an end. You can see it from the beginning, and catch glimpses of it as you move through a paper. Inexplicably, some writers slow their progress with the end near at hand, sometimes stopping altogether. You can tell a professional academic writer from a wannabe: The pro doesn’t quit until he has crossed the finish line. The key to finishing strongly is to establish and maintain a writing pace that finds you still with psychic energy at the end.
Long-form projects such as scholarly papers can be exhausting as writers try to wed research data and findings with polished writing that expresses original thinking. This is not child’s play. But what ultimately separates good writers from bad is how they wrap up a paper. A piece that wanders off in its latter stages and concludes weakly gives back all the goodwill it built up in earlier sections. No part of a paper can stand to be weak, especially the concluding section.
Psychic energy is what an individual draws on for inspiration and second-effort resolve. It is how a person is able to maintain a high standard of writing when he is dog-tired of a project. Learn to recognize telltale signs of mental weariness, such as a sudden willingness to settle for “good enough” or an unwillingness to check the spelling of a suspect word. These are the letdowns that erode a fine paper into a substandard one. Demand excellence of yourself from beginning to end.
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