How many times has your teen started to research a term paper at the eleventh hour? Literally: at 11 o’clock on the night before the paper is due? (Truth be told, how many times did you do that in high school or college?) But writing is difficult enough without adding time anxiety and fatigue to the mix.
Though your teen will need to learn time management on his own, you can start him down that road and help him to become a more efficient writer. Here’s how:
- As soon as he’s told the date a paper will be due, have him enter the deadline in his planner. Then have him block off scheduled times for research and stick to them.
- The Internet is an amazing resource, but your teen still should know her way around a library, and know how to mine books, magazines, and newspapers for appropriate information. If she can connect with someone who’s an expert in the field she’s researching and schedule an interview by phone, Skype, email, or in person, so much the better.
- Be sure your student keeps all his research materials organized and in one place. The old system of jotting references on 3×5 cards, one citation (with attribution) to a card, is still a good way to go. If a computer database is easier, that’s another option.
There’s a Draft in Here
Once his research is complete, encourage your teen to draft an outline for the paper. It will help him to organize the material, structure his thoughts, and concentrate on the important points.
When the draft is finished, he can begin writing. And rewriting. And probably rewriting again, because it’s the continual polishing of prose that makes it shine.
Furthermore, refining the text and changing the wording from the original sources lessens the possibility that your teen will open himself up to charges of plagiarism. Search engines enable teachers and professors to type in phrases to see whether they appear in previously published material.
Ask if you or another adult can read the paper to ensure that the sentences make sense, and the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. Remember that good writing is conversational and concise; $50 words and rambling sentences do no one any good.
Finally, if the term paper is to be handed in on actual paper (rather than a disk), don’t let your teen eat or drink anything while assembling the finished product. He won’t get extra credit for that smudge of peanut butter on the bibliography.
Carol Lippert Gray is the editor of Raising Teens, a New Jersey Family publication.