1.) Pick a topic. Find something you’re interested enough in that you won’t end up hating it after having completely immersed yourself in it for weeks on end.
2.) Vaguely think about it off and on while you do the other assignments for your course, hang around on Facebook, and read murder mysteries in your off time.
3.) Hit the library. No, wait – first hit the library’s website, and surf around, following improbable rabbit trails through the jungle of Library of Congress Subject Headings.
4.) Repeat step 3.) on Google. It’s amazing the stuff you can find – say you’re researching Austen film adaptations, you might find out that Jennifer Ehle played some other costume drama with Jeremy Northam, and that she looked a whole lot better with her hair natural, rather than that dorky wig they put on her for the 1995 P&P. This step can occupy you for a long, long time.
5.) Go to the library and pick up the two dozen books you ordered in on your topic. Stack them around your computer.
7.) Send an email to your prof, whining about not getting ahead. Try to change your topic a time or two.
10.) Get several pads of sticky notes, the real skinny strips, preferably fluorescent-coloured. You need them to mark sections you’re going to quote in the books. Don’t even THINK about actually highlighting library books, or even just underlining stuff and making notes in pencil. You will be smote by the library gods. (I’m sure there are some. Some Greek gods of libraries? And they’re very smiting, believe me. Especially after having had their powers enhanced by my righteous indignation at all those scribbles and markings in the margins. Grrrrrr…)
11.) Repeat step 4.)
12.) Go on the library website, pull up the databases the library subscribes to, and repeat step 3.) Save about three dozen references in a special folder. The next day, go back and open every single one of those .pdf files which will all have titles like 678459q84.pdf, and rename them so you can actually recognize them when they’re closed. Go back into the databases, repeat your search, then actually save the references to the files you’ve found. Export them to RefWorks.
14.) Eat copious quantities of snacks.
15.) Start reading. Or at least, open those .pdf files, and skim over the contents. Highlight interesting sentences, even if you have no clue what the author said on the page before or after the quote. (Yes, you may highlight. The library gods do not care about alterations of electronic files.)
16.) Crack open the covers of those library books, and follow the general principle of step 15.), replacing “highlight” with “sticky-note”. You may write on the sticky note, if you manage to not draw outside the line and accidentally write on the page of the book. If you do the latter, you will be smote.
19.) Feel put upon.
21.) Open several text files in your favourite writing program, such as Scrivener. One will be your main text body. Another will be random notes. Scribble down everything and anything that came into your head when you were doing all that pacing, procrastinating and panicking (see, they have a purpose!). Copy and paste quotes you want to use from the .pdf’s; swear at the fact that Adobe Reader won’t let you copy something you’ve highlighted. Go back and pull a clean .pdf off the net, so you can copy and paste from it. Manually copy quotes from the hardcopy books. Throw all those citations randomly into your notes file.
22.) Sleep and eat. Don’t panic too much at this point, it interferes with sleeping and eating.
23.) Whine at your family and friends about the stress levels you’re under. Tell them what you’re writing about (it helps. See “pacing, procrastinating and panicking”). Stop telling them when their eyes glaze over.
23.) Open your notes file. Sort your ideas into a semblance of sense. Cut and paste the quotations, and stick them in the right categories.
25.) Open your text body file in one window, your notes file in another. Take a deep breath. Start typing.
26.) Keep telling yourself “Just write, just write, just write – you can edit it later – just write… yes, this sounds awful… just write…”
27.) Make sure to frequently hit “save”.
28.) Repeats steps 22.), 23.), 24.) – 27.) as often as needed.
29.) Include in-text citations as you write, or leave them to the end, as you choose.
30.) Read over what you’ve done. Fix the really glaring nonsense (if the wording makes you gag, chances are your prof won’t like it either).
31.) Boot up RefWorks, pick the four references you actually used of the three dozen you saved, and build your Works Cited list. Manually enter the reference information for the hardcopy books.
32.) Copy and paste it to your text file.
33.) Pick a snappy title for your piece.
34.) Export everything to the file that will be your final paper file.
35.) Spellcheck and format your paper. Swear at the word processing software which does weird things with margins and fonts, and insists on spellchecking in US English instead of British or Canadian. No, I do NOT want to change “colour” to “color”!
36.) Hit save.
37.) Have a glass of wine or two to celebrate. Go sleep.
38.) Open the file, read it over. Shake your head at all the mistakes you’ve missed. Fix them. Make sure all your citation information is correct and shipshape.
39.) Save everything to a few other files, just to make sure you don’t lose it. Give the files an academic-sounding name. (No, “Bob” won’t do.)
40.) Read the paper over again, just to be sure.
41.) Address an email to your prof; attach the file. Quadruple-check that you’ve actually attached the file and aren’t sending him a blank mail. Hover your mouse pointer over the “send” button. Take a deep breath, then another for good measure. Panic mildly. Click “send”.
42.) Abandon yourself to The Euphoria of Completion.
There you have it – Forty-Two Steps to Writing a Term Paper. Well, they work for me, anyway. You’re welcome.