How To Get A Head Start On Your Final Paper

By Ashley Austrew, Journalist and Writer

The end of the school year is coming up fast—as if you needed a reminder! Or do you need a reminder? Are you prepared for that end-of-year flurry of exams and those all-important final papers? Before you know it, it will be time for high school and college students to turn in their work—have you started yours yet?

We won’t blame you if you haven’t. Procrastination is pretty tempting (and not to mention normal) when it comes to essays and research papers, but it’s important to remember that good writing takes time. If you’re relying on your final paper to help you end the semester on a high note or score an even better final grade, you’ll want to start early on brainstorming, organizing, and editing those term papers to be the best they can be. Luckily, we have some foolproof tips to help you get a solid head start.

Iron out the details

Teachers and professors will likely hand out details on the final paper over the coming weeks. When they do, there are a few details you’ll want to note to help you prep:

✅ When is the paper due? Highlight it, write it down in your calendar, and set an alert on your phone. You don’t want to miss this one!
✅ What’s the expected topic and word count?
✅ Which manual of style should you reference for your document formatting, citations, and bibliography?

Don’t hesitate to meet with your teacher privately to discuss any questions or concerns you might have about the final paper. They can give you a better idea of what they expect and what they’ll be looking for when grading.

Schedule a brainstorming session

Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to write down your ideas for paper topics. Make a list of everything that comes to mind, and then go back over it with an eye for detail. Which topics interest you the most? How many supporting sources and details do you think you can find for each one? Eliminate the weak links until you’re left with the strongest idea for your paper.

Get your notes and research in order

Before you start working on your paper, you’ll want to get organized and do some preliminary research. Make sure your notes are in order, and that you’ve completed any required reading for your paper. Additionally, set aside a few hours to begin looking for sources.

✅ Verify that you have access to any online journals you may need while writing.
✅ Check out any necessary reading materials from the library.
✅ Bookmark the helpful sources you find online. Make sure they’re accurate and reliable!

Don’t forget to ask a librarian, teacher, or tutor for help if you’re having a hard time finding sources. Research is a long and sometimes difficult process. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to find everything you need.

Make an outline

After you’ve done some research and gotten your notes in order, you’ll be in a much better position to start working on your actual paper. Write your thesis statement, and then create an outline noting your basic points, what sources you plan to use for support, and your conclusion.

What if outlining isn’t your style? Do what works for you. That could be making an idea map, plotting each section of your paper on notecards, or just writing out your rough ideas in chronological order on a sheet of paper. Once you’ve got the skeleton of your paper in place, it will be easy to expand it into a first draft.

Make time for editing

So, you’ve written an excellent first draft. Now, it’s time to go over your first draft with a fine-tooth comb. You’ll want to look out for the basics, like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Most importantly, you’ll want to verify that your paper is written and formatted correctly, and that you’ve skillfully executed your ideas.

✅ Does your paper have a clear thesis statement?
✅ Are your arguments clear and concise?
✅ Have you correctly cited your sources?
✅ Did you follow the correct style guide when formatting?

Try reading your paper out loud to check for clarity and pacing. You could also meet with a friend or classmate to go over each other’s papers and suggest edits.

Editing your own work requires a lot more focus than you might realize. Here are some handy tips for becoming a proofreading champion.

Get extra writing help from a tutor

Organizing, drafting, and editing a strong paper doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Dictionary.com Academy Tutors™. offer writing help or one-on-one coaching for high school and college students. You can book a session with one of our tutors to go over your brainstorm list or outline, or you can meet once your first draft is written to fine-tune your thesis, arguments, spelling, and grammar.

A final paper is a big assignment, and it’s definitely not one you’ll want to leave until the last minute. If you space the work out and give yourself plenty of time for fine tuning, you’ll end up with a high quality paper without any of the usual angst or exhaustion. That’s a writing plan we can get behind!

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Ashley Austrew is a freelance journalist and writer from Omaha, Nebraska. Her work has been published at Cosmopolitan, Scary Mommy, Scholastic, and other outlets. For more by Ashley, read: “Teacher” vs. “Tutor”: Why Most Kids Need Both | Leave The Best Impression With Our Tips For National Proofreading Day | Make Your Writing The Star Of National Grammar Day With These Tips

The end of the school year also means those dreaded exams. Find all the tips you need to make the grade on your final exams, here.