April Colosimo

Liaison librarian, Schulich Library of Science and Engineering

Q: What process do you go through when writing an academic paper?
I have an odd code name and numbering system that I use to keep track of ideas in the literature when writing my own academic paper. To begin the process, I often build a concept map that follows my reasoning through the paper and includes descriptions of the relationships between the main concepts or ideas. From here it is easier to create an outline of the different sections of the paper.
I gather up related articles, many of which I have read previously, number them and give them each a name that represents the project. As I (re)read each article I note which aspects are relevant to my work and which sections of the outline they fit with. I never feel like I can move ahead with my own writing until this step is complete. The next step in the process is to expand on my outline with notes from the numbered articles. These references will contribute to the introduction and the literature review and help me articulate how my paper will make a unique contribution. Lastly, before sitting down and completing a first draft, I talk out what I have with someone, anyone who will listen.

Recommended writing resource:

Whether you are at the conceptualization stage or deep into the writing process, concept mapping is one technique that can improve the clarity of your writing as it challenges you to graphically represent your understanding of the content. The CmapTools software can help you create a concept map, a visual representation of your writing, with the main concepts pulled out and the relationships between them defined. CmapTools is free to use and comes with an extensive Help menu (http://cmap.ihmc.us/Support/help/).
Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. IHMC CmapTools from http://cmap.ihmc.us/