When writing an academic paper, and in particular a long paper such as a senior thesis, it helps to be organized. There is no single solution for everybody. All of us have our own organizational styles. That said, it can be helpful to review what others have found useful.
Making time for thesis work
- Identify your top five time-wasters; try to cut back on at least one
- Identify your best time of day for reading and writing
- Set small and achievable goals (i.e. “I will write five pages this week” or “I will write 750 words each day”).
- Do mundane tasks first
- Work in the same place
- Avoid distractions and use them as rewards
- Carry a notebook with you to write down thoughts as they come up
- Use waiting time to read or write down your thougths
- Treat your project as a part-time job
Making the most of your reading
- Use flags in library books and highlight articles
- Add the book or article into a bibliographic document or program, along with the relevant quotes or ideas from the book
- Cut yourself off from reading in December
- Mortimer J. Adler’s (1940) How to Read a Book is not very short but it is valuable. One of the things he does, for instance, is distinguish between “three distinct readings”. Structural, or analytic, reading proceeds from the whole to the parts. Interpretive, or synthetic, reading, proceeds from the parts to the whole. Critical, or evaluative, reading involves judgments by the reader. There is also a newer version of this book, co-authored with Charles Van Doren, which outlines four reading styles
- Hampshire College: “How to Read a Scientific Research Paper”
- Matthew Cornell: “How to read a lot of books in a short time”
- Make regular appointments with your advisor
- Establish benchmarks for progress
- Exchange completed work with other thesis-writers
- Ask for help when you need it!
Project Management and Tasks
Software and Technology
Wesleyan University makes some software freely available to students which may be helpful for your research. You can search the “Wesleyan Software Database”.
Two other great resources for information about software and technology relevant to our academic work are Lifehacker and Profhacker. A search of their blog posts can reveal some great resources, many of which are free.
Bibliographic Software. There are a lot of options out there, especially if you want to pay money. Here we highlight options that are free to the public and to the Wesleyan community.
- “Zotero is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources.”
- “EndNote is a citation management system designed to keep track of references in your research. It offers many different reference types, including journal articles, books, conference proceedings, maps, and theses. You can import references directly from many online databases, copy and paste from online citations, or manually type in the reference.”
- Other reference software.
Note-Taking. It is a great idea to figure out a note-taking system for yourself. There are a lot of different tools for establishing such a system, from the ever-popular pen-and-paper to software solutions such as EverNote.
Data Analysis. Wesleyan has versions of SPSS and SAS available for students (see the software database mentioned above). Access to STATA may also be available. R is a free, open-source software package that anyone can download and use. Training is recommended for using all of these packages.
Project and Task Management. Completing a major research project is not a simple task. There are many different steps to getting there and it is useful to put a system in place to manage your project.
- Lifehacker: “Five Best Personal Project Management Tools”
- adapted from Erica Chenoweth[back]