Writing is Not Your Old Fifth-Grade Theme Paper
What do you think of when you hear, “I need to get my writing done?” If you dutifully wrote the history or reading theme paper assignments Ms. Chitterley gave when you were in fifth grade, you may think, “Dull! Why not do something exciting?”
Looking at the flip side of this coin, maybe you felt a little thrill of excitement as you found out your teacher was assigning a written paper. Regardless of the part of the writing process you like the best, each endeavor, be it a research report for a class, a progress report for your boss, a web content article for one of your clients –– or, best of all –– more progress on the novel you’re writing, you need to carry out basic research first.
Primary and Secondary Research
“Primary” research is material you find that comes right from the source. If, for instance, you’re writing an article for LiveSTRONG about the causes of infertility and related treatments, the best kind of research for this type of article comes right from the source –– the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers and scientists who study infertility, its causes, how it impacts couples and ways of helping these couples have children.
If you are an engineering student and one of your professors has assigned your Fluid Mechanics class a group paper, you and your group partners will conduct detailed research at the university’s library; you may also use Lexis Nexis as you look for the most recent and best research that comes straight from other engineers.
While elementary and middle school students don’t have to research to the same levels that high school and college students, scientists, doctors, researchers and engineers do, because they are just learning to research correctly, this process is just as difficult.
If you are a freelance writer with web content clients (Demand Media Studios, Bright Hub, Constant Content, Associated Content, WiseGEEK) or offline clients, each one has detailed writing guidelines that spell out how they want you to research your article’s titles and cite that research. Using primary research, and using it well, makes it easier for your readers to trust what you are saying.
Secondary research comes from sources that are not as close to the people who have made the discoveries. For instance, you may find a news story in the New York Times that talks about the history of smartphones. The reporters writing these articles conducted the primary research and the paper printed the stories. When you find and save these stories, you are conducting secondary research.
The Writing Process
Regardless of whether you are writing a research paper, web article, report for work or your novel, the writing process has more than one layer.
After you have found and saved your research, you highlight and extract the most important pieces, using what answers the questions.
Write an outline that hits the most important questions or “tells the story.”
For a research paper, you need to write your introduction first so the paper starts to take a shape and you know in which direction you need to go. For other venues of writing, you may decide to write the intro after writing the body of your article; you may not even need an intro.
Following your outline, write your paper, article or book. Whether you follow your outline point by point or whether you use it as a guide, just write. The time for editing and corrections comes when you’ve finished writing.
After you have finished the first draft of your paper/report/book, give yourself a little pat on the back and relax. Get away from the words you’ve written so you can read (and edit) them with a fresh eye.
Take your creation out of the drawer and use a red pencil to make your notations. Look for typos and grammar errors, noting in the margins what these are. Read your creation out loud, checking to see if words and paragraphs flow logically. If they do not, then note where they fit better and indicate this with red arrows on your manuscript.
If your creation is your novel, look for weak characterization or plot. Make the needed changes, either deleting a weak, useless character or making him stronger. Look for areas in your writing where the plot line gets confusing –– maybe you should introduce more of a transition between scenes. As you read, keep in mind what has already happened, what is happening now and what will happen in future chapters. You’re looking for errors in timeline; maybe you had an event happen in the spring, but you’re referring to it taking place in the winter in another part of the book.
Make all the changes you find need to be taken care of; once you are happy with your work, ask a trusted friend or associate to read it for you and let you know if there are any additional changes to make.
Writing doesn’t have to be a painful or boring process. Think of the research process as a time of learning something you didn’t know before and do this for every writing assignment you receive.
Not everyone is cut out to be a writer, but those who are have that urge in their psyches –– “I have a book inside me that just has to be written.”
Follow that urge. Write your story. If you are working on an assignment, make it the best it can be.