How to Compose a Paper

Many students struggle with different aspects of writing a paper, but perhaps the most common difficulty we all face is remaining aligned with our thesis statements. Once you form a cohesive thesis, it can be tempting to speed through the rest of your paper. However, this can put you and your thesis in grave danger of the red pen! Of course, a paper that does not follow its thesis will confuse its readers and be graded poorly. There is a simple way in which you can avoid this trap when you begin working on a paper. The solution is: preparation. From thorough research to forming an outline with points and sub-points, preparation will serve as a lifeline to follow when you’re in the middle of writing.

After forming a thesis, you may feel as if you have enough information on your subject to begin writing a masterpiece. This might be true, but before putting words to paper you should identify two or three main points that address your thesis well. In this way, you can organize your thoughts and develop a good grasp on how to tackle your chosen subject. Many times, we have hundreds of ideas floating around in our heads, but if we don’t develop them, it can be challenging to put them into words. For example, when I write a paper, I jot down every single thought or idea I have on my subject that might support my thesis. If I do not do this, these ideas will be completely forgotten when I begin to focus on writing. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than losing a fantastic idea! This can happen to all of us though, so we need to write our thoughts down in order to remember them because there are so many components that go into writing a paper.

When we do write a paper while trying to retain all of our thoughts in our heads, the paper can get messy. You are more prone to going off topic or even arguing against your own thesis by accident. Some of the content might become repetitive, and other parts might not make any sense. Therefore, writing down thoughts, ideas, and points will aid in the organization of your paper. This is what we call an outline, which is one of the most beneficial tools a writer can use. Every writer should create and follow an outline for every paper. If you have never used an outline before, you might be surprised just how good of a writer you are when you begin to use one.

After forming an outline with all of the points you want to address, begin to research each area. If your assignment requires research to be done, the points in your outline should be supported by research. It is not enough to simply have a point in your paper if you cannot dive into that point and explain its relevance to your thesis. Always look for ways to back up your points with evidence. Because, a thesis needs to be backed by points, and points need to be backed by evidence. If you can do both of these when writing a paper, you are in a good spot. Your thesis can claim that the earth is flat as long as it is supported by main points with good evidence (although I would not recommend arguing this topic). Such evidence and support is everything in paper-writing; you need it in order to construct a good paper.

When I write, occasionally, another idea will pop into my head that I did not even consider when forming my outline. I always make sure to write the idea down and then look for sources that relate to it later on. When this happens to you, first make sure that the idea can be properly supported by evidence. Then, check to see if it helps or hurts your thesis. Unfortunately, not all ideas are good ones, and what may seem like a good thought could actually be detrimental to your entire paper. However, these thoughts could also have the potential to add depth and originality that main points lack. Therefore, look into ideas and thoughts of your topic regardless of how small you might think they are. You never know when such a thought might improve your paper.

Ultimately, preparation goes a long way when composing a paper. Work out your main points, ideas, and thoughts regarding a paper topic before you dive into writing. Use an outline and remember that research builds support for your paper. Following these tips can improve your skills as a writer. Even if some of these tools seem tedious and boring, give them a try! With these methods, everyone has the ability to write a strong paper!

Written by Jack

For more information on paper composition and other writing subjects, check out our Composition of a Paper handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!


Never Grow Up

Ever been to Disney World? If not, then I seriously recommend and encourage you to do so. I have been four times in my lifetime, and all four trips have been fun-filled and simply magical. (I know that’s cheesy, but it’s so true.) Lots of people may consider Disney stuff “just for kids,” but I believe Disney is for everyone. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy letting their inner child shine for a bit? The last trip to Disney World I made with my family, I was 20 years old and my younger sister was 17, but we acted like we were 6-year-old children.

Before we even arrived at Disney, my sister and I were so excited we could barely keep ourselves from bouncing off the walls. We decided to bring as many Disney stuffed animals as we could, or more accurately, as many as our parents would allow in the car. The road trip was about 18 hours with a couple of rests in between, but we started to listen to more and more Disney music the closer we got to Orlando. I’m not talking about only the princess songs like “A Whole New World” and “I See the Light.” I’m talking about soundtracks to all Disney movies from “April Showers” in Bambi to the overture of Monsters Inc. (My whole family is really into all things Disney.) You’d think we would have gotten tired of it all, but we definitely did not. Each song only amped us up more for the experience to come.

There were so many things to do at the parks. Each park is so unique and incredible. So many shows to see, coasters to ride, games to play, foods to eat, and characters to meet. My family and I stayed for a week and didn’t have the chance to do everything that we wanted to do. But the activities we did do were amazing.

Magic Kingdom was one of the first parks I went to. Of all of the different rides here, my favorites were the Mountains: Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain. Don’t let the names fool you; these rides are very different. Space Mountain is an indoor roller coaster that is supposed to look like you’re whizzing through outer space. I saw stars inside the Mountain and after riding it. Thunder Mountain is a tamer coaster that’s outside and made to look like an old Western mining site, so there are lots of explosions. My sister and I would take turns squashing each other in the one big coaster seat by leaning dramatically on the larger curves and turns. Splash Mountain is the wettest ride in Magic Kingdom, as implied by the name. Most of it is pretty relaxing except for the 50 foot drop at a near 90 degree angle. My family decided to ride this one at the hottest point of the day, so luckily we were quite cool for the rest of the time we spent in the park.

But not everything is about the rides. My sister and I loved meeting different characters from our favorite shows. My sister had the opportunity to meet and chat with Peter Pan. Both of them were very uppity in their conversation, and I think my sister may as well have been flying after that interaction she was so happy. I think meeting Chewbacca and getting a hug from him was my favorite part of the entire trip. (I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, so I was excited to see any of the characters.) I had no idea what he was saying, but I am sure it was nothing but polite and complimentary. We even had a few run-ins with some storm troopers who were “punishing” rebel sympathizers, meaning they would find people who were wearing anything to do with the rebel alliance (symbols, pictures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi robes, etc.), then put them in a random corner, and walk away. It was quite a hilarious sight to see.

I could rave on and on about what I saw at Disney World. I could tell of how I oohed and awed over the fireworks every night, how my sister and I tried on every single silly hat we could find in the gift shops, how we also almost made ourselves sick in the spinning tea cup ride, or how I teared up when we had to leave to go home. I have so many fond memories from these child-like experiences with my family. And I think that is because at Disney World, I’m allowed to be a little kid again.

Written by Taylor C.

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How to Write an Outline

I’m not going to lie; writing is hard. Even as an English major who works in the Writing Center, I find writing difficult. I love writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I outlinethink the toughest part about writing is actually starting the writing process. I can have my topic picked out and all of my research done but still have absolutely no idea where to go from there. Maybe you’ve been in that boat, too. You might have a great idea for a written composition in mind but not know exactly what to start writing about. This is where an outline can truly save the day. An outline can be the most helpful method in the writing process. It can help to break down broad ideas and organize them in an understandable way. By creating an outline, the writer gives form to his or her thoughts and to the paper itself.

I find it helpful to simply jot a few points down first. What are some of the major issues that need to be addressed throughout the essay? How do they relate to each other? What evidence is there to support the claim? Think about these questions pertaining to the topic and write down at least three ideas you would like to discuss in the paper. If there are more than three points, that’s good. Longer papers require more content. And sometimes, smaller points can be included within the larger points if they are closely related. Ever heard of the expression “it’s better to have too much than not enough?” Well, it is always better to have more ideas to work with than fewer.

Now, it is time to take on the thesis. The thesis will include the main points previously mentioned. Remember not to include too many details in the thesis, but give enough information so that the reader has a sense of the purpose and structure of the essay. Think about it like this: if you were to summarize your entire paper into one sentence, then that would be your thesis.

For example, I wrote a paper about digital technology and its impacts on society. I knew there were at least three areas of impact I wanted to thoroughly address, so I put those in my thesis. My working thesis statement became something like “The long-term effects of the digital age can hinder the health, education, and even character of the current and future generations of society.” My thesis clearly states my essay’s topic, the negative effects of digital technology, and gives a general overview on the types of problems my paper addresses, which are the impacts in the health, education, and character of current and future members of society. Notice there are no specific examples or evidence in my thesis, but simply a general idea and some organized points. The thesis doesn’t have to be perfect yet; you can always work on the grammar of your thesis later when you start writing your paper. You simply need to get the main ideas of your paper down into one sentence. This is the most important part of the essay because it gives the reader a preview of what is to come.

The thesis and the main points are the core of the paper, so once those have been solidified, you can start working on the details. For the main points, research and support will be needed. Under each point, write down some examples that can support that point. These may consist of examples from a literary work, a fact quoted from a science textbook, or a statistic from an internet article. List everything that supports your point and be sure to cite your sources when it comes to putting quotes and paraphrases into your paper.

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations! You’ve outlined most of your paper. The only things left are the introduction and conclusion. For the introduction, list some things that would be helpful information for the reader to know in order to understand the subject of the paper. Are there any terms that need defining? Would giving a brief plot summary help? Basically, list any background information that you consider necessary in order to understand the topic.

As for the conclusion, three things should be included: thesis, summary, concluding last statement. I’ve found it helpful to list these things out so that I remember what I want to write in the conclusion by the time I finish my paper. It is best to restate, but also reword, your thesis in order for the paper to appear cohesive. Then, summarize the main points of your paper. You can even refer to the bullet points you wrote in the beginning of the outline. Lastly, you’ll want a concluding sentence or two. It might be a call to action or statement of importance. It needs to be something that ties the paragraph together.

This outline technique has benefited me many times in the past, and I hope it benefits other writers, too. If this method doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. There are several different ways to outline a paper. This is simply one of them. I know writing is hard, and starting the writing process can be quite the challenge. That 8-10 page research paper can seem like a beast that might bite your head off, but don’t worry. It is best to simplify your thoughts. Break them down to organize them, and you’ll be able to build them up again to write that essay.

Written by Taylor C.

For more information on outlining and other writing subjects, check out our Outlining: Structuring a Paper handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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Do Bees Have Knees?

If you grew up in the south like I did, you’ve probably heard more strange idioms than you can count. It seems as if the qualifications for being a southern grandma include having a name like Mamaw and meeting a nonsensical idiom quota. However, have you ever stopped to wonder what these sayings mean or where they come from? Well, I’ve got the answers for you. Here is a list of some strange idioms and adages and what they really mean.

  1. “Don’t wear white after Labor Day.”

As it turns out, this phrase stems from an upper-class sense of superiority in the late 1800s. In order for affluent women to distinguish between themselves and lower class impostors, they created a series of absurd fashion rules that only rich women knew. Not wearing white after Labor Day was one of them.


  1. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Most people who have heard this phrase understand it to mean that you can’t “have it all.” The phrase comes from the mid-1500s, with the first documented use being in 1546. Essentially, it means you cannot both eat the cake and still have it; you have to choose between the two things.


  1. “One in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

This phrase is fairly simple. It means it’s better to hold onto what you have than risk it for the possibility of something better. The phrase originated from medieval falconry practices in 16th century England. Fun fact: the original phrase was written as “Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood.”


  1. “Selling like hotcakes”

It is believed that this term came about in the mid-1800s because pancakes, or hotcakes, were common food at fairs and socials. At these busy events, the crowding resulted in a rush at the pancake stand. The phrase most likely developed as a slang term from such occurrences. It simply means to be in high demand and sell quickly.


  1. “The big cheese”

This phrase originated in England in the 1800s as simply “the cheese.” That phrase by itself was a slang term meaning something was a big deal. Experts suggest that the phrase came about when English colonizers misheard the Hindi word chiz, which means “a thing.” When it crossed the pond to America, we added “big,” likely because of the large wheels of cheese produced in America at the time.


  1. “Take it with a grain of salt.”

As it turns out, this phrase came from a 17th century recipe for a poison antidote. The grain of salt was added to a mix of nuts, herbs, and fruits. The meaning comes from the idea that with this mixture in his or her body, a person could disregard potential poisons he or she might encounter. Thus, if you take something with a grain of salt, you can disregard it.


  1. “Dead as a doornail”

Obviously, this phrase means something is very dead, and most people probably recognize it from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The phrase was first used in the 1300s to mean dead, and was popularized later by William Shakespeare. The reason doornails are considered dead is because the process of hammering one into a door and bending the protruding end to keep it from falling out would render the nail useless afterwards.


  1. “The bee’s knees”

This phrase simply means cool or in fashion, and was popular in the U.S. in the 1920s. It originally was supposed to mean “nonsense” because it was a nonsense expression. The reason that the phrase now means “cool” is unknown. It likely evolved from local slang.


There you have it, folks. Now you can consider yourself well-informed and share this knowledge with the world. And, next time you use one of these phrases, you can relish in the fact that you know where it comes from.

Written by Taylor H.

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