On episode 156, Jordan talks about how …
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Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to write an essay. He also teaches you how to write an outline and lists steps to writing a good paper.
Five keys to a good paper:
1. Break the paper down into its component pieces, title, intro, body, conclusion, and works cited
2. In the intro, set the scene, give us a hook, state your argument, and forecast your main claims
3. Create your body by introducing your claims, explain how these claims support your argument, and create a smooth transition
4. Write your conclusion, remind us of your best points and restate your thesis. Then discuss what’s the next step in this discussion.
5. List all the sources that you used in the course of writing this paper.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Hey, guys. Adam S. here; Prepped and Polished, South Natick, Massachusetts.
Last time we talked about backwards planning, big picture; how to look at a
big project and think about how to break it down and plan it backwards over
time. Today we’re going to really dive into a pretty common assignment that
a lot of kids struggle with: How to write an essay. For a lot of us when we
first get assigned a paper, we just have these memories of sitting and
looking at a blank piece of paper and a lot of frustrated hours spent
sitting in front of a computer just staring at an empty page. It doesn’t
have to be that way. The trick is to realize that, in a way, every paper
you’re ever going to write is the same but different. Let’s head over to
the whiteboard and I’ll show you what I mean.
Here we are, a scene that’s pretty familiar for most of us, just staring at
a blank piece of paper; no idea what to do, where to begin. How do we even
get started? The lesson that we learned last time is that sometimes it
helps if you can start at the end. What does the finished product look
like? You know a finished paper is going to have a few elements that every
paper you write is going to have. Let’s talk about what those are. First,
you’re going to have a title; every paper has a title, then there’s an
intro, a body, we have a conclusion, and then some works cited or
bibliography. Let’s break these component pieces down a little bit and talk
about what each one of them means.
This basic skeleton is going to hold true for pretty much every academic
paper that you’re ever going to write. Of course, the content will change
based on the topic, but the structure is going to pretty . . . relatively
constant. Let’s talk about what these pieces mean. First is your title;
that could be a page, it could be a header at the top of your paper. It’s
pretty simple. It gives the title of your paper, your name, date, maybe the
class title, and other pertinent information like that. The next thing that
your paper’s going to lead into is your introduction. Your introduction,
regardless of the topic, is always going to serve a similar function. There
are a few main points you always need to hit. The first thing you want your
intro to do is to set the scene. Tell me what you’re going to talk about.
Tell me where I am. Give me some context. Then you’re going to give us a
hook. Why should we read this paper? Why do I care? What’s interesting
about your take on this situation? Then you’re going to state your
argument; this is your thesis. Give me your topic. Then you’re going to
finish your intro by forecasting your main claims.
Every paper that you write is going to have maybe anywhere between 3 and 5,
depending on the length of the paper, main claims to really back up your
argument. Forecast what those are going to be. Remember, you want this to
be pretty concise and to the point. Any good paper is going to start strong
and finish strong, because people remember the first thing and the last
thing that they see.
After your introduction, you’re going to transition into your body
paragraphs. The body of your paper is where you’re going to discuss your
main claims. Each claim is generally going to get at least a paragraph,
maybe a couple of paragraphs, even a couple of pages depending on how long
the paper’s going to be. Each body paragraph should have a few things in
common. They should all start with a topic sentence; that’s where you
introduce the claim that you’re going to talk about. Then you want to
explain why that claim is important to this paper. How does it relate to
your thesis? How does it strengthen your argument? Then you want to give
support; this is where you would include quotations from sources that you
had read. If you’re writing about a specific book, this would be quotes
from the book. If it’s a research paper, these could be journal articles,
even websites. Then at the end you want to transition; you want to set the
stage for moving into your next body paragraph, a smooth transition for
introducing your next claim.
At the end of your body comes your conclusion. This is your chance to wrap
it all up. What do you want to do? Remember, you want to start strong, you
want to finish strong, so you got to make sure you have a strong
conclusion. First, you want to remind us of your best points. Hopefully,
your paper was structured such that you started with your smallest points
and closed with your biggest. You want to go small too big, and then remind
us of the best ones. Then restate your refined thesis. You gave us an
argument at the beginning of the paper. Did your opinion change? Did you
learn anything over the course of this discussion? Then tell us the next
step. What would a future paper about this topic be about? Are there any
unanswered questions? That’s how you want to close out your paper.
Then after your conclusion, your paper’s going to finish with some kind of
works-cited page or bibliography. Your teacher might have different
preferences about what format they want you to use, so make sure you check
about the rules regarding citations. There’s also a lot of great web
resources that make citing works really easy.
Now I want to take a second to talk about the importance of outlining.
Outlining is really important; it’s actually a huge time saver. It might
sound like more work up front, but if you outline well, writing the paper’s
the easy part. All you have to do is connect the dots. Now you know that
this is the basic skeleton of, really, any paper you’re ever going to have
to write. They’re all going to be different, but they’re also all going to
be kind of the same.
For example, let’s say we had to write a paper about our best vacation
ever. We’d have an intro. What’s the scene? My vacation. Where’d you go? I
went to Hawaii. Set the scene; tell me what Hawaii’s like. What’s the hook?
What happened in Hawaii? What’s really exciting? What’s your argument? My
argument is that this was the best vacation ever because . . . then
forecast your main claims. It was the best vacation ever because I surfed,
I learned something, I made a new friend. Then you go and talk about your
claims. Claim 1: I surfed. Claim 2L learned something. Fill in what you’re
going to talk about with details about each point. Then you have your
conclusion. Main points: Great vacation for these reasons. Refined thesis:
I learned that although this was a great vacation, it wasn’t as great for
the reasons that I thought it was. I learned something. My opinion changed.
Then give me the next step, what’s the next discussion about this argument?
Maybe next time this is the vacation I’d like to take in the future. You
plunk those points into this skeleton, and now all you have to do is sit
down and connect the dots and you have a paper.
How do you plan for a paper? What are the basic steps? We talked about the
skeleton and what goes into a paper. How do you break that up over the
course of a week or 2, or 3? There’s some important steps to writing a
paper. The first thing you have to do is research, if necessary, if you
need to research your topic before you write about it. Then you want to
write your outline. Then you want to write your first draft. Don’t hand in
your first draft. It’s really important that you take the time to
proofread, revise, and make edits. You want to give yourself enough time
before the paper’s due to be able to do that. You’ll have a much better
paper in the end. After the first draft, you want to make edits and revise
it as necessary. Then you have your final draft, including your works
All of this is going to take time. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 items. If we had 2
weeks to get this paper done, we’d want to backwards plan. Start at the due
date and count backwards. Say you have 10 days between now and then; that
means you can assign 2 days to each of these points. You have 2 days to
research, another couple of days to outline it, a couple of days to work on
your first draft, a couple of days of editing and revising, and then your
final draft is done, no sweat.
Those are the basic steps of writing a paper, a road map of how to get
there. Hopefully, now you can see how every paper is the same but
different. You never have to write your first paper again. If you can
remember this road map, you’ll always know where to begin, where you’re
going, and how you’re going to get there. See you next time.
What is your current process for writing an essay? Which of our essay tips did you find most useful?
Post your tips/comments below.
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Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to avoid procrastination and work methodically toward your goal by planning backwards.
1. Start at the end
2. Break down the final product into its component pieces.
3. Break up the work of each component over a two-week period.
4. Once you’ve plugged it all into your schedule, all you have to do is follow the steps that you’ve laid for yourself.
For more EF building blocks, check out our video about Creating a Weekly Schedule
Hi guys, Adam S. here, Prepped and Polished., South Natick, Massachusetts.
Today we’re going to talk about another important building block in
executive functioning backward planning.
So what is backwards planning? Well, for example, if I asked you to draw an
image of a dog it would be pretty easy. Working backwards from the image in
your head you would do your best to reproduce that image of a dog on a
piece of paper.
But what if I asked you to draw a picture of an ibis? Not so easy, right?
What the heck is an ibis? You wouldn’t even know where to begin. So when
you don’t have a finished product or a picture in mind, the task can seems
pretty overwhelming. An ibis is a kind of bird, by the way. It’s a cross
between a turkey and a vulture.
The same principles can apply to academic work. When you’re first assigned
a big paper or a project, sometimes you can’t see the finish line. And the
task can feel pretty overwhelming. In fact, it can feel so overwhelming
that we never even start it. We just keep putting it off and putting it off
and putting it off until finally it’s due tomorrow. And we scramble around
frantically the night before with usually a lot of help from mom and dad.
You go through all this anxiety and frustration that’s completely
avoidable. It’s not a great way to go through school, and what’s worse is
you’re building associative memories. So next time you are assigned a big
project or a big paper all you’re going to think about is all of that
anxiety and frustration and the frantic scramble you went through last
What if I told you there’s a better way? What if instead of starting at the
beginning we decided to start at the end. Let’s go over to the white board,
and I’ll show you what I’m talking about. Say you were given an assignment
where you have to give a presentation on a leader that you admire. There’s
a speech, a paper, maybe a PowerPoint. Sounds like a lot of work, right?
It’s a pretty big project.
So where do we begin? Well, let’s start at the end. What did the end look
like? So what do we have? We have a paper. We have maybe some index cards
for your speech. There’s a PowerPoint going on in the background and
[inaudible 2:01]. Not so overwhelming, right? The question is how do we get
So that’s still a pretty big project. So let’s break it down into some
component pieces, right? So we have a paper. There’s a speech, and there’s
a PowerPoint, right? Three things. So how do we break these three things
Well, the next part is going to involve some really simple math. First, you
have to figure out how much time between now and the due date? Say it’s six
weeks, right? Six weeks between now and when this presentation is due, and
how many things do we have? Three, right? One, two, three. Six divided by
three equals two.
That means we can assign about two weeks to each one of these tasks. So
let’s go back to the schedule we talked about the last time. Now what
you’re going to want to do is take each of these guys and plug them into
spots in your schedule.
Now I know this is still pretty complicated. Don’t worry; we’re going to
have another video. I thought I’d break these guys down a little more so
you know how to write a great paper. Something that I really like to do is
to put your daily task items on sticky notes.
Say what I am going to do is research on Monday, write a rough draft on
Tuesday. That way if you get home Monday night and you really don’t feel
like doing research, that’s okay. You’re going to have to move it to
Tuesday. Now there are two things to do on Tuesday. What if you don’t feel
like doing any work on Tuesday? Well, now you have to move it all back to
Wednesday, and you can see how the work really starts to pile up.
It’s a great visual to kind of show you the cost of procrastination which I
think is great. So once you’ve plugged these guys into your schedule all
you have to do is follow the day by day stats that you’ve laid out for
yourself. Watch out for the procrastination, and you’ll reach that finish
line, no problem. You will avoid all the anxiety, stress, frustration you
may have experienced in the past.
So those are the basics of backward planning. Start at the end. Which does
the finished product look like and once you see what it looks like, ask
yourself how many pieces does it have? Then figure out how much time do you
have between now and when the project is due. Divide that time by the
number of pieces. That’s how much time to assign to each piece.
Then all you have to do is follow the schedule that you lay out for
yourself. Remember procrastination has its price. If you do these things
and reach that finish line, no problem, and pretty soon big projects will
be no big deal.
All right, guys. See you next time.
How do you currently plan for projects and papers? Which of Adam’s tips did you find most useful?