Academic writing guide: how to organize your papers
If you want to ensure that your research papers and essays earn high grades and receive positive feedback, you must organize your thoughts well. Professional academics are accustomed to a particular organizational style, and adhering to that style will make your work appear more professional and polished. Learning how to organize papers in a proper academic format will also help you publish research papers and gain admittance to graduate school, if either of those goals are on your horizon.
How should you organize your academic papers? Follow these tips.
Use Clean, Clear Formatting
Do not be afraid to have a lot of "white space" on your papers. Double space every section of your paper other than the bibliography, and insert separate title pages for your main text, your references, and your appendices. Provide bold headers indicating your chapter titles, and include at least three sub headings per chapter. When in doubt, add more labeling and headers, as it will make your paper easier to follow (this is especially the case with longer papers and research theses). Make sure to use adequately large margins, page numbers, and proper citations as well.
Follow the Hourglass
Psychological researcher Daryl Bem suggests that students imagine the research paper as having an hourglass shape -- wide on the edges and narrow in the middle. What this means is that your paper should begin with general information and broad statements of fact, and move toward your specific area of interest gradually. The middle of your paper should be where your writing is the most situation-specific and precise. From there, you should move outward, contextualizing your research findings and applying them to more broad phenomena or situations.
Following the hourglass format will leave you with a paper that is both worldly and informative on a particular topic. It will give your readers a sense of the size and scope of the topic you are exploring, without inundating them with irrelevant details or excessive data. Ending your paper in a broad, outward looking manner will give your readers a strong sense of why your topic is important on a global scale.
Eliminate Unnecessary Details
Packing a paper with a glut of information and irrelevant research is a common mistake that many student researchers make. You may feel tempted to "show your work" by including every single detail you have read during the research process. It is important, however, that you learn the art of editing. Including too much information can cause your paper to lose focus, and may confuse the reader. Stick to the essentials.