How to finish writing an academic paper when you’re stuck

Whether the academic paper you’re stuck on is a term paper, dissertation, journal article, or even the chapter of a book, reaching the point when you confront a blank page and write your first sentence can be unnerving. Your approach to this vital stage in the writing process is, to a certain extent, a matter of personal preference, and you will develop strategies as you become more experienced. But if you are just beginning, the task will seem more manageable once you have the following in place:

Academic papers need a clearly stated argument or claim

Are you clear about what you want to say? Imagine you are explaining your argument to a child. Draft a few sentences in which you state your claim in plain and simple language. You may find that the process of articulating the argument as if to a child — or someone with no knowledge of your field — nudges you into beginning your introduction. Remember, this is just the first draft. You will revise it later, and then you can work on developing a more elevated style and vocabulary.

Academic papers need a detailed, well-structured outline

With an outline you break down your argument into a series of logical stages which give the document its coherence. At every level — chapters, sections or paragraphs — the work you do on your outline will make the writing process much easier later. Your outline should contain drafts of the topic sentences that drive your argument forward and control its momentum in each stage.

If the shape and order aren’t falling into place, jot down your key ideas and sentences so that you can “brainstorm.” You may want to consider using mind-mapping software to create spider diagrams or flow charts to help you organize your ideas.

Academic papers require solid research to support your argument

The outline is the skeleton of your academic paper. The research is what gives it life. Have you completed enough research to support your argument? Have you stored and indexed it in a way that makes it easy to access? Do you have all your references in hand?

Remember, too, that nothing is written in stone at this stage. Writing is an organic process, and you may find that the process takes you in directions you hadn’t expected. Expect to tweak your outline, to find you need to supplement your research, to eliminate sections, and to revisit and change the nuances of your argument.

Writing an academic paper involves creative and analytical input, which are complex tasks that are never easy. But if you do the groundwork in a calm and methodical manner, you will be well prepared to begin writing with confidence and purpose.

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