November is National Academic Writing Month. Writing a paper is a complex task that involves many executive function skills such as planning, organization, time management, and metacognition. 

When a student has challenges with these executive function skills, writing a paper can be difficult, overwhelming, and often dreaded. Consequently, some students procrastinate getting started until the night before their paper is due.

Other students may underestimate the time needed to complete the task. As a result, they end up rushing through their work and making careless mistakes to get it done on time. Or, perhaps it gets turned in late, if at all, which can impact their grade. 

Some students may go straight to writing their papers without planning and organizing their thoughts. This could lead to difficulty staying on topic and losing sight of their goal. 

Here are some tips for successfully writing an academic paper

Plan Ahead

Plan enough time to complete the entire writing process. There are many steps to writing an academic paper that shares your opinions and expresses your thoughts about the topic on which you are writing.

  • Chose a topic and then determine the goal of your paper. 
  • Carefully research your topic and note your sources.
  • Reflect on your goal with a powerful thesis statement.
  • Plan your writing by coming up with a clear outline. 
  • Write the first draft. 
  • Edit and revise your work.
  • Proofread your final draft. 

Block off enough time to complete all of these steps without feeling rushed to finish it before the due date! 

We recommend thinking about each step as a different assignment and breaking it down accordingly. For example, on Monday, choose a topic and brainstorm ideas. On Tuesday, determine the goal of your paper and begin researching. From Wednesday through Friday, continue your research, taking notes and noting your sources as you go. On Saturday, come up with your thesis statement and write your introductory paragraph… Breaking down the project into smaller, more manageable chunks provides “do” dates vs. a “due” date! We always recommend aiming to finish a day or two ahead of time, just in case you cannot adhere to your schedule.

Choose Your Topic

Often teachers provide a list of topics to choose from, but sometimes you may have to develop a topic independently.

It’s always easiest to write about something you know about or are highly interested in. Brainstorm a list of ideas and then narrow it down. Make sure your topic is not too broad, so you don’t attempt to include too much data in one essay. Instead, narrow your topic by answering a key question or focusing on a specific aspect of your topic. For instance, Global Warming is too broad of a topic, whereas “Is Glacial Melt a Concern?” is more focused and manageable.

You also may find that you modify your topic as you pursue your research. 

Gather All of Your Resources 

Before you start writing, complete your research, and gather all of your resources. This will help you organize and focus your writing before you start.

Have a system to keep track of your citations and follow your teacher’s guidelines for properly citing all sources very carefully. 

Check out these tools below to streamline your searches, verify valid sources, organize and cite information.

  • Tips for online research & source verification.
  • Zotero: Collect, organize, and share your resources.
  • instaGrok: Create an interactive, customizable fact map for any topic.
  • Easybib: Easily generate citations for your bibliography in a variety of formats.

It’s also helpful to take notes using a mind map or note cards. Try one or both of these mind map software options: Inspiration or Mind Manager. Or have fun and get creative using colored pencils or pens.

Write Your Thesis Statement

The thesis is the most important sentence in your academic paper! It will inform your audience of the main goal of your paper. Your thesis should reflect your opinion regarding the topic or answer a research question. All of the supporting details in your paper should connect back to your thesis.

Use a Graphic Organizer or Outline

After you’ve done your research and written your thesis statement, use a graphic organizer or outline to organize your thoughts. This will help your paper be cohesive and flow. Having a visual outline can also ensure each paragraph focuses on supporting your thesis, and each detail or thought connects to the previous one. 

Your outline can also help you plan your writing. For example, you may choose to write the first and second detail on Sunday and your third and fourth on Monday. On Tuesday, you can write your conclusion, and on Wednesday, edit, revise, and proofread one last time. Again, breaking down big assignments into small, doable pieces can help you stay on track without feeling overwhelmed.

Add Details in Your Writing

Assume the reader does not know the topic you are writing about. Get the reader excited about the content by fleshing out key ideas or concepts. Use your own experiences and opinions in addition to quotes, examples, facts, and descriptions to support your thesis or topic.

Check Your Writing Rubric

Make sure you have covered everything outlined in the rubric given to you by your teacher.

Check off the rubric’s main points while addressing key concepts and highlight things you still need to address.

Proofread Your Writing

It’s always important to review and edit your work. You may need to rewrite your first draft more than once! If you need further proofreading guidance, please read our blog post titled 10 Tips for Successful Proofreading.

About Skills 4 Life:

Skills 4 Life offers a broad range of pediatric occupational therapy services to children from birth to high school. We help children master age-appropriate developmental skills, become more independent, increase academic success, & develop confidence. The experts at Skills 4 Life specialize in handwriting, keyboarding, & executive function coaching. We also work with children on the building blocks of writing, social & emotional learning, motor skills, self-regulation strategies, sensory integration, early intervention, & activities of daily living. Skills 4 Life offers your child a safe, compassionate environment to learn the critical skills they need to succeed in learning and life. Learn more about our team & services at You also can contact our office by email at or by phone at 303.351.1828 for a free consultation.

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