How to Crush Your Research Paper or Oral Presentation

It doesn’t matter what you’re studying—inevitably, you’re going to have to write a research paper or give an oral presentation this semester. I wrote papers in my Calculus I class! Requirements are going to depend on your professor, but it’s more than likely that as a college student, you’ve got at least one research paper looming, and one oral presentation on the syllabus. If you already have a few years of college under your belt, you more than likely have a few life hacks you’ve developed for handling these deadlines.

One of mine: start early! If you know you’re going to have a big paper due at the end of the semester, don’t wait until the last minute to get started. Read on for a few more life hacks I’ve gathered on research papers and oral presentations.

Take advantage of on campus resources

This may seem obvious, but your professor has office hours for a reason. If you’re worried about an upcoming project, schedule a meeting and ask for help. Your prof will be happier that you came in early to discuss a project than having you wait until the end of the semester and not turn in a project that meets the course requirements.

If there’s a tutoring and writing center on campus, definitely go there for help on a research paper, even if it’s just to have the tutors read a draft to make sure it’s coherent and makes sense. When I’m working on a paper, I’ll routinely have someone look over the first draft, then look over another version closer to the final. That way I can make sure my ideas are on the right track, as well as that my final paper is going to be convincing enough for a good grade.

If you use a campus computer lab or print shop to print your papers, don’t wait until the last minute (like the morning the paper is due) to print it. “You never know when you’ll come around the corner and see the Print Shop line across Student Commons,” wrote Courtney Lundy in her article, “19 Algonquin College Life Hacks You Wish You Knew When You Started School,” continuing, “It’s happened to the best of us. If you have a project due, your best bet is to go to the print shop a few hours before since you never really know how busy it will be.”

Research paper topics and source material

Don’t spend all your time picking out your topic and finding source materials; you need to have enough time to read the sources and write the paper! If you’re having trouble choosing a topic, you can visit Questia’s tutorials on “Planning a Paper.” Once you start looking for your sources, don’t just select all of them by title and add them to your topic list. Read through the abstracts to make sure that the article is actually the kind of source that will help you on your paper. I’ve fallen for this one myself: I’ll take my mark list and save it in a document to go over later, then discover that several of the articles that looked good from the title actually have nothing to do with my topic—or only have a single line in a long article that’s relevant, which is not an ideal source.

You probably won’t write a paper or a presentation all in one go. Once you’ve got your notes down and have ideas about where you want to go with the paper, make sure you keep a small notebook and pencil (or a handy Quick Note app on your phone) with you at all times. You never know when you’re going to have that breakthrough idea that will tie all the elements of your research together!

If you’re presenting all of your research in front of your peers, use this one quick life hack to stave off your stage fright: make sure one of your classmates is ready to throw you a question you can answer in your sleep. You’ll still be showing how well you know the topic, and you won’t have to be nervous about facing those after-presentation questions.

What are your tried and true life hacks for research papers and oral presentations?

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