Online Writing Center



Getting Started

Perhaps there is nothing more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper, especially when it needs to be filled with insightful, coherent, intelligent ideas before a certain deadline. First you must decide on a topic, and then you have to think of things to say about it. Different writers have different methods for conquering the dreaded blank sheet. Here are some suggestions.

Talk. Talk about your assignment with anyone who will listen: friends, family, your professor, or a writing center consultant. This way, you are not alone - and conversation often leads to good ideas. If you talk about something that sounds interesting do not assume you will remember it; make a note of it before you forget.

Write. Freewriting is an excellent way to come up with a topic and/or supporting details. Instead of agonizing over your assignment, force yourself to do something about it. Take half an hour, sit down at your computer or desk, and just write. Write everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid it might seem. Do not worry about form or grammar, and do not let yourself stop until the half hour is up. When you are done, read what you have written and look for ideas that might work in your paper.

Brainstorm. This is like freewriting, except you just make a list of ideas--a list of possible topics, or a list of details or points that you might include in the paper. Always keep your notebook handy, and try to squeeze out as many ideas as you can. You can eliminate the stupid ones later.

Develop a working thesis. Once you have a topic and some supporting details, try to come up with one or two sentences that capture exactly what your paper is about and indicate what "angle" you will be taking on the topic. This helps give you direction. Don not worry about sloppy wording; you can revise it before you include it in your final draft.

Plan. Unless your professor requires it, you probably do not need to write a formal outline--but you do need to have a plan for your paper. After you have a working thesis, scratch notes to yourself about what each paragraph will cover and what details you need to include. This plan might change, but at least the paper has a skeleton.

Start in the middle. Once you have a working thesis and a plan, it is time to write a rough draft. Many people find the introduction to be the most difficult part of a paper. If you are stuck on that first sentence, skip it! (Or just write something stupid that you can rewrite later.) Jump to the body paragraphs, and do the introduction last. Sometimes it is easier to introduce when you can see exactly what you are introducing.


Remember the Writing Center, both online and IN the NOVA library. We will help with your paper at any stage! Whether you’re having trouble getting started or have written a draft, be sure to take advantage of this free service!








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