Writing with purpose

Every weekday I sit down to write a blog entry about academic papers, and sometimes I imagine readers out there wondering, What is so interesting and important about academic papers? 

I was thinking about that a lot over the weekend, and I realized something: Writing academic papers is only important and interesting if you write with purpose.

As an elementary school teacher, and now a writing coach, my core belief is that education has purpose.  To be effective and influential, teachers and tutors MUST infuse their teaching with purpose.  They must show their students why learning is relevant, and approach academic subjects with passion. However, some teachers are ineffectual.  They lack the ability to create purposeful lessons.  Many paper assignments seem to be busy work, unconnected with the rest of students’ lives.

I urge you, as the student, to see the bigger picture.  If you are an adult learner returning to school, you returned with a purpose.  Approach every assignment from a bird̵

7;s eye view  and ask yourself how it fits in with your career and life goals.  What paper topic will help you excel in your chosen field?  In this economy, in order to be successful, you must stand out as an expert.  Can you write your papers in a manner that brings you closer and closer to that expertise?


Why writing a paper is like going on a backpacking trip

Backpacking is probably one of my favorite activities.  I feel the most alive, the happiest, when traveling through unknown places, preferably 3rd world countries, because they are cheaper and still full of incredible experiences.  My husband and I went to Belize a few months ago, and I did not want to leave.  I was imagining us extending our trip, going to Guatemala, and then further south, not returning home for months.

Wouldn’t it be great to feel like that about writing a paper?

Most people see paper writing as a burden, as something they have to do to get through school.  But in reality, writing papers is one of the most authentic learning experiences we have in college.  Just like traveling, we decide where to go.  We immerse ourselves in learning.  And, unlike when traveling to third world countries, we can’t get giardia from doing so.

I find that when I have a task to accomplish which I perceive as unpleasant, it is helpful to reframe it for myself to make it more enjoyable.  For example, I can see working out as a way to become more fit, instead of an hour of my day spent grunting and sweating.  In doing so, I try harder and get more out of it.

So here are a few ways you can look at your paper writing assignment as a backpacking trip. In doing so, you will hopefully become more invested in your paper, enjoy it more, and come out with a better paper in the end.

1. Choosing a topic = Deciding where to go

You may be thinking yeah, but my professor controls the topic of my paper.  It has to relate to the course topic.  You are right.  And when planning a trip you are limited by a specific budget, a certain time frame, flight availability, etc.  However, when choosing a destination, you also think about places you really want to see and explore.  Can’t paper writing be the same?  Choose a topic you really want to explore and about which you’ll enjoy learning.

2. Doing initial research = Reading travel guides before you leave

When I am going on a trip, I love visiting book stores and paging through travel guides.  What can I see in Italy?  Where do I want to go in India?  Finding research for your paper can be the same.  I think that most people look for sources as if they are shopping for paper plates for someone else’ s party.  They know they need  them, and they know the basic size and material they want, but other than that, anything will do.  The moment you begin choosing boring sources, that’s when the paper writing process begins to suck.  Instead, look through your research database like you are looking through a guidebook.  Be selfish – where do you most want to go?

3. Writing an outline = Creating an itinerary

You have done a little bit of research about where you want to go within your paper.  Now it’s time to plan your trip.  What are the main places (ideas) you want to visit in depth?  When planning a trip, you decide on a few places to stay and learn even more about them, and that’s also what you do in the outlining phase of writing your paper.  When my husband and I went to Italy, we decided we would first go to Rome, then Venice, and then down to Florence.  Once we knew where we were going, we looked into the deeper details of where to stay, which museums and sites to visit, etc.  It is the same with your paper.  Once you know your subtopics, you can begin the exciting part – figuring out more about each topic.  As you identify further subtopics, write them into your outline. Now you know where you will go in your paper.

4. Doing deeper research = Packing for your trip

Once your initial outline is roughly complete, go back to your sources and pull out specific quotes to use in each section of the paper.  I find it very helpful to write these into the outline, citing them as I go, so that I don’t have to go back and type them up later.  Doing this is like packing the essentials in your backpack before a trip.  Do you have enough sources?  If not, keep looking.  But don’t include random sources just to fulfill your professor’s requirements.  Make sure that everything you put in your paper is essential.  Backpacking can be a pain in your back when your pack is filled with nonessential items. Trying to shove unrelated articles into your paper will make the process painful as well.

5. Beginning your paper = The plane flight over

I admit it – beginning a paper is my least favorite part.  Why?  It is hard to know where to start.  I usually start with my first subtopic, rather than the introduction, because the introduction is a preview of the rest of the paper, and until I know what is in the rest of the paper, I think it is fruitless to try to write an introduction.  But forcing myself to sit down and begin writing can be difficult.  I have to get the first few sentences down, and then it takes off.  Similarly, plane flights are usually one of the low points of the trip.  But you have to go through them to get to your destination.

6. Writing the body of the paper = Experiencing the trip

As you write the paper, you learn so much about your topic.  You explore ideas you never knew about previously.  As you learn more about your topic, your initial outline sometimes changes.  You decide to explore new ideas as they are revealed to you.  But you still stay in the same subtopics and stay focused on the same overall topic.  After all, if you are in Florence, you aren’t going to wake up in Guatemala City.

7. Writing the introduction and conclusion = Creating an album of your trip

After I return from traveling, I like to create an album showing where I was and what I experienced.  It is the same with your introduction and conclusion.  Now that you know the specific subtopics and the details within them, you can write your introduction, showing the reader where you will go, and the conclusion, showing where you have been.  Make the introduction exciting by beginning with a grabber, and the conclusion satisfying by tying it all together with a call to action.

8. Editing and revising = Telling exaggerated tales about your trip

Lets face it – no trip is perfect, and without editing, your paper won’t be perfect, either. But we don’t go home from a trip and tell everyone about the moments we wish hadn’t happened.  Instead, we embellish the good parts and conveniently leave out the less than savory moments.  When you edit and revise your paper, you get the chance to remove the imperfections before handing it in.  Do you really want your professor to know about that night in Roatan when you got locked out of the hostel?  I didn’t think so.  You also don’t want him to see all of the mistakes in your first draft.

So you see, paper writing can be like going on a great trip.  The key is to see this as a great learning opportunity and be picky about your topic and your sources.  Make sure you really care about your paper.

And while you’re at it, send a postcard or two to share your learning.

2 key emotional ingredients for school success

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients, and she was telling me how emotional she is getting about her first grade daughter’s reading level.  She said that when she got her latest test scores, she just burst out crying.

It got me thinking about the emotions of learning.  When I taught elementary school, many children in my classroom were unable to learn at first, because they had so much going on in their lives that was more important.  The turning point in their learning abilities came when they realized they could trust me and gained confidence in themselves.

From this experience, I will argue that there are 2 key factors to being successful in school (or really, any endeavor).

1. Self-confidence

Do you approach your assignments and papers with the knowledge that you can tackle any task?  Self-confident people view difficult experiences as learning opportunities.  What do you tell yourself about your skills and abilities?  Does your internal voice say that you can do it, or shy away from difficult tasks?  If you lack confidence in your abilities, get help by hiring a tutor or visiting your school’s writing center.  Break assignments down into smaller tasks so that you can see what you need to do to be successful.

Remember that everyone is brilliant in different ways.  Know yourself – where do your strengths lie?  Can you apply them to assignments you find more difficult?

Finally, self-confidence grows from accomplishments.  So if you are feeling badly about your abilities, fake it until you make it.  Just keep working and know that when you complete assignments, you will not only learn more, but gain confidence as well.

2. Support from others

Do you have a teacher you trust, someone who always encourages you and knows you can accomplish any task? If not, seek one out.  Get to know your professors; see if one of them can serve as your mentor.

Surround yourself with people who know how brilliant you are and who will help you achieve your goals.  Are your friends understanding when you can’t go out with them because you have to do schoolwork, or do they tell you to have more fun?  Are they willing to discuss academic topics with you?   If not, befriend fellow students and make a point of spending time with those who are succeeding in school.


In elementary education, we spend a lot of time focusing on our students’ emotional needs, but it seems to me that this focus is lost as students grow older.  However, the older we get, the more complex our emotions become.  We may be able to push them aside more effectively, but they can still greatly affect our success.  Who hasn’t experienced an argument with a loved one followed by an unsuccessful day at work? Take time to nurture yourself.  When you feel good, you will be much more successful.

4 paper writing ideas for extroverts and interpersonal learners

This week, I have been focusing my blog posts on writing papers for the different learning styles.  Today I will be focusing on interpersonal learners – those who learn best by conversation and relating to others.  What are the implications for how they should write papers?

Even though paper writing is thought of as a solitary activity, it doesn’t need to be.  The following are some ideas for social learners to get the most out of their paper writing assignments.

1. Get together with a friend to first discuss your writing and then write.  Ask each other questions like:

“What are you focusing on in your paper?”

“What is your thesis statement?”

“Do these subtopics make sense within this paper?”

2. Read the assignment with other students from your class and get multiple opinions on what your professor is looking for in the paper.  Someone else may have noticed something you missed.

3. Throughout the week or so during which you are working on the assignment, discuss the paper topic with others.  You never know what ideas a friend or family member might contribute.

4. Hire a tutor.  If you want someone to discuss your writing with you in depth, consider hiring a writing tutor.  He or she will be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss ideas and ways to improve your writing.

Paper planning and writing for visual/spatial learners

©Copyright Silverman, L.K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner

Yesterday’s blog focused on paper planning for mathematical learners, and today I am going to tackle the task of paper planning and writing in a more visual, spatial manner.

Visual/spatial learners are artists, architects, and great parallel parkers.  They can easily see how objects relate to one another in space.  They may think in pictures rather than words, which can make it difficult to write papers effectively.  They tend to learn things all at once, instead of in a sequential manner.  Instead of using typical methods, they prefer to come up with their own answers to problems.  These students learn best by grasping relationships between ideas.

So, what are the implications for how visual learners can best approach the paper writing process?

from http://www.blog.imagethink.net

1. Plan visually.

Most people are taught to plan their writing by creating an outline.  However, visual learners may benefit from laying their ideas out in a more spatial manner. Instead of writing in a list format, why not create an idea map for your paper? Below are two documents to help visual/spatial learners plan their papers in a different way.  The first is a template, the second an example of how to fill in the template.

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template, Color coded

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Example

2. Visualize while you read.

This is a skill that most readers do naturally, but when reading high level, academic texts, it is easy to stop visualizing.  Try to see the concepts or ideas in your mind.  Maybe even sketch a picture of your thoughts.  This can help you ground yourself and understand your reading.


3. If you are unfamiliar with a topic, gain some background knowledge by watching educational videos or looking at books with pictures.

A key component to gaining deep understanding is connecting to background knowledge.  If you don’t know enough about a topic, first fill your background knowledge bucket by watching a video on YouTube or finding some other visual way to become acquainted with your topic.  A great paper shows that its writer is an expert on the topic.

Information on visual/spatial learners gathered from:

The Gifted Development Center

Visual/Spatial Learners

Paper Writing for Mathematical/Logical Learners

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post briefly outlining all of the intelligences and some paper writing ideas for each type of learner.  For the next few days, I will go into more detail about each intelligence and list some ideas for tackling the paper writing process.

The mathematical/logical thinker is great at solving abstract problems.  They can easily do math problems in their heads.  They categorize things and wonder how things work.  They are likely to become doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and accountants.  Based on these career choices, these learners may not have to do as much paper writing as someone in the humanities, but who doesn’t have to take intro college English?

Some of my clients have told me they prefer math to writing because there is a specific set of steps and one solution at the end.  Writing is a messier process, involving lots of differing ideas and ways of approaching them.  However, I think that a similar approach can be taken with writing as with solving mathematical equations.

I’ll admit it – I am kind of a math geek myself.  When I was in school, I loved plugging numbers into formulas.  If you are mathematical thinker, look at your paper as a formula. A well written paper is a very logical piece of writing and should follow a basic pattern.  Download the PDF below for the formula for a well-written paper.

Paper Writing Formula

Another way you can look at paper writing is that all of the ideas and sources are parts of the equation, and your thesis statement is the solution to that equation.  Writing the paper is just like writing a mathematical equation, only now, the parts of the equation are words instead of numbers, and the solution is mentioned in the introduction and the conclusion.


The Multiple Intelligences: A New Way of Looking at Paper Writing

Where Do You See Yourself in this Wheel?

What are the multiple intelligences? Howard Gardner coined the term in 1983 to refer to the different ways that people learn.  The multiple intelligences are:

1. Linguistic

Those who are linguistic learners love reading and writing.  They are adept with words and may also be good at learning new languages.

Linguistic learners probably love writing papers, because it gives them a chance to express themselves in words.

2. Mathematical/Logical

This intelligence has to do with abstract thinking skills.  Those who are mathematical/logical thinkers can easily connect the dots and come up with new ideas.

This intelligence also comes in handy when writing papers, because a large part of the thinking that goes into paper writing is connecting ideas to come up with a cohesive thesis.

3. Spatial

Spatial thinkers are good at putting puzzles together.  They can see how objects relate to one another.  For example, spatial thinkers are great parallel parkers. (Whereas I usually think I am way closer to the other cars than I actually am!) They also tend to be artists or other professionals with a visual focus.

How does spatial intelligence relate to paper writing?  In traditional paper writing, it doesn’t seem to apply.  However, spatial thinkers can tailor their paper writing experience to their strengths.  Instead of writing outlines, they can choose to make an idea map, where each concept connects visually to the next.

4. Bodily/kinesthetic

Bodily/kinesthetic learners are adept with using their bodies. Athletes and dancers have a high bodily/kinesthetic experience.  They are able to focus on a physical goal and hone their bodily responses to meet that goal.  They also tend to like moving their bodies when they learn, and physical learning experiences can help them internalize concepts.

Bodily/kinesthetic learners may struggle with paper writing, because it is such a sedentary activity.  However, why not infuse some of the process with physical activity?  Instead of sitting still while reading research articles, why not work out and read at the same time?  It may be helpful to visualize paper writing skills and connect them with physical goals as well.  Kicking a soccer ball into a goal, hitting a baseball, or making a slam-dunk is akin to writing a clear, focused thesis statement.

5. Musical

As you might guess, those with musical intelligence have a good pitch and a sense of rhythm.  Musical thinkers tend to also be good with language, which can come in handy with paper writing.

I would also argue that a well-written paper has its own internal rhythm.  The sentences flow well together, alternating between longer, more complex ones, and shorter, succinct ones.  If you are a musical thinker, write and read your paper over with an ear for flow.  Does your paper sound like a well composed piece of music, or is it more like a series of disjointed sounds?  Use your musical strength to revise and enhance your paper.

6. Interpersonal

Those with interpersonal intelligence relate well to others.  They can understand other people and what they need to be successful. They are also empathetic and are able to motivate others.  Those with this intelligence learn best by working with others and discussing their ideas.

If you are a highly interpersonal learner, get together with other students and write your papers side by side.  Leave time for discussing the ideas in your paper.  Many people think that they need to be secluded to write papers, and they struggle to stay focused.  That is because some people need to discuss their ideas with others in order to fully understand the concepts.  If that sounds like you, make paper writing into a social event.  Instead of sitting down alone to write your outline, jot down ideas while discussing them with your peers.

7. Intrapersonal

Intrapersonal learners have a deep understanding of themselves.  They tend to be very introspective and understand their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to be successful.

If you are an intrapersonal learner, use introspection to your advantage.  Think about your strengths and weaknesses in regard to paper writing.  In which areas do you need more help?  Plan your paper writing accordingly.

8. Naturalistic

Those with naturalistic intelligence feel deeply connected to nature.  They are able to understand the natural patterns in the world and are great gardeners and naturalists. They love animals and other living things.

If this sounds like you, try to come up with topics about nature for your papers.  If that doesn’t work, why not write your paper outside, in a park?  Fill your home with growing things and see if it helps you to stay energized.


Most people are a mixture of many of the intelligences.  For example, I excel at paper writing, because I am a linguistic, mathematical/logical, and intrapersonal learner.  However, I could never be an artist or an athlete, because my ability to relate objects in space and to make physical goals are nil.  However, I love painting abstract watercolors and doing yoga, because they are highly intrepersonal activities.

What are your strongest intelligences?  Take this test to find out where your strengths lie. How can you use them to help you in the paper writing process?

What Can Your Research Paper Do For You?

The Top Ten Benefits You Get From Writing a Research Paper:

1. You get to choose a topic and learn about that topic.

2. Writing research papers can help you figure out your true interests and know which direction to move in your education and in your life.

3. The more you write, the better you get at writing, and knowing how to express yourself well is always a good thing.

4. This is your opportunity to show your professor how much you have learned in class.

5. You can show off your amazing new knowledge on dates or to your friends.

6. Once you are out of school, learning about new things can go from being a requirement to a hobby, so enjoy it while you can.

7. As you move toward writing a thesis, your brain makes new connections, therefore making you just a tiny bit smarter.

8. You never know when your writing or new knowledge will help you in other classes, or in future jobs.

9. A great research paper can really boost your grade, and, unlike on exams, you are in control of the quality of your work.

10. They are a great excuse to put off unpleasant tasks, like cleaning your room.

Paper Procrastination

We’ve all experienced it: On the first day of class, we notice a paper assignment  on the syllabus.  It isn’t due for a month, so we ignore the assignment for a few weeks.  Then the professor starts talking about the paper in class, reminding us to do it.  We promise ourselves we’ll sit down and work on it over the weekend, but then friends invite us out to lunch, or to play Frisbee in the park, and we push it back further.

Finally, it is a week away from the due date, and we have to sit down and start writing.  But then anxiety about starting the paper shows up. The strong among us push through it, choose a topic, outline the paper, and just start writing.  But others of us push the paper off even more, waiting until the night before the paper is due to sit down and get it done.  By then, it’s too  late to do a great job, or to learn much from writing the paper.  An assignment that could have taught us something ends up being a stressful, nerve-wracking experience.

Why do people procrastinate on papers?

1. They don’t know where to begin a complex project like writing a paper, so they don’t begin at all.

2. Paper writing is often seen as an unpleasant task, so many students choose to do other things until they absolutely have to start writing their papers.

3. Many people lack motivation – they don’t see the inherent reason for writing the paper, other than being told to do so, so they avoid writing it.

4. Paper writing requires discipline, and it can be difficult to stay on task when distractions creep up.

Everyone procrastinates, but doing so causes students to perform poorly on papers, lose sleep, and stress out. What are some strategies for pushing through the procrastination to increase our success?

1. As soon as you get an assignment, read it thoroughly.  Figure out how long it will take you to finish the paper from start to finish, and schedule some times on your calendar for planning, writing and editing.  Make sure to write down the time of day you will sit down and work on your paper.  Studies have shown that people who write down a specific time to accomplish tasks are much more likely to do them.

2. Find a place to write where you will enjoy it and not be distracted.  Personally, I love going to coffee shops to work on papers.  Drinking a frothy latte and sinking into a comfy chair helps me enjoy the process, and there aren’t as many distractions as there are at home.  I actually like the noise.  However, you may need to go to a quiet place, like the library.  Figure out what works for you.

3. Use this website and others like it to become more familiar with the steps of writing a great paper.  When you are more familiar with the process, you won’t be as intimidated to begin writing your paper.  Then, break down the process into manageable tasks.  Decide to choose your topic and do some initial research one day, prepare an outline another day, and so on.  Don’t try to tackle your entire paper at once.

4. To increase your motivation, choose a topic that is meaningful for you.  What do you want to learn more about?  Don’t think about the paper as something you need to get done for your professor, rather, see it as a learning opportunity for yourself.  Writing papers is one of the great opportunities in college to learn about something you’re curious about.  View it as a great excuse to spend time investigating an interesting topic.

5. Ask a friend from your class to write with you.  Or hire a tutor to sit down with you and guide you through the writing process. Just as I am much more likely to go jogging with a partner, you are more likely to sit down and work if you have someone to write with you.

Are you a procrastinator?  Why do you think you do it?  Do you have any additional tips on how to stop procrastinating? Share them in the comments section.