7 Challenges To Write Research Papers Faster (And How To Overcome Them)

the writing newsletter Jan 17, 2023
An old academic professor thinking about writing.

I want to address seven challenges to writing research papers faster in this issue of my writing newsletter. If you want these in your inbox every two weeks, make sure you're subscribed for free here. You will also leave this article knowing how to deal with the difficulties that every academic writer faces.

1. Lack of motivation or focus

A lot of hard work and patience are needed to write a research paper. It can be hard to stay motivated during the process, and many problems may arise. You might have trouble focusing on the task, not have enough time because of other commitments or distractions, put it off, worry about finding reliable sources of information, have trouble understanding complicated topics or ideas, not know enough about the subject being researched, or have bad writing skills. To get past these problems with motivation, you need to make a plan and set deadlines for each step.

  1. Break down your tasks into manageable chunks. You should set specific and measurable goals for each part of your task, such as setting word counts or time-boxed deadlines for finishing certain sections. This will help you focus on one part at a time and keep you from feeling like the whole project is too much. Also, as you reach each goal, you’ll feel like you’ve done something good, which will keep you motivated and excited about your project.
  2. Reward yourself for small accomplishments and take regular breaks. Accomplishments can include completing a paper section or reading through your sources. Your rewards don’t have to be anything big — it could be just taking five minutes away from the task at hand to watch an episode of your favourite podcast or YouTube video or grab a treat from the kitchen (there you go, Pavlov). Make sure you take regular breaks throughout writing; this will give you time to step back and clear your head so that you’ll feel refreshed and more motivated when you return to work on the paper.
  3. Find a person to help keep you motivated. Having a writing buddy or accountability partner who understands how important it is to stay on track and meet deadlines will help you stay on track and make progress on your paper. They should be someone you can trust, who understands your research, and who is willing to give you honest feedback so you can get the best results. It might also be helpful if they have experience writing research papers because they could offer valuable advice about what has worked for them. Working with a partner or friend can also bring fun into the process and break up any monotony from working alone for long periods.

2. Not organizing research materials

It can be challenging to organize all the sources and notes. With so much information to work through, it is easy for important details to get lost in the shuffle. Set up a way to file all the essential papers to ensure nothing gets lost. If you’re a paper person, you could use binders or folders to store documents and highlight critical passages. Taking digital notes or using an online database can help keep resources sorted efficiently. Setting up a reliable way to organize things early on can save time and effort when you need to get to resources later.

  1. Create a system for keeping track of sources and notes and stick to it. The key is to develop a strategy that works best for you, whether it’s using an index card filing system, creating digital documents or folders for each source, or using a note-taking app on your computer (Pro Tip: Use Readwise Reader, Notion, or Obsidian). Once you have the system in place, be sure to take the time to use it correctly — inputting all necessary information about sources and taking detailed notes as needed. Staying disciplined with this task regularly will help prevent having to go back and search through piles of materials when trying to write up your paper later on.
  2. Use citation management software. It can store reference lists, notes, and other documents related to the research paper. Citation management tools also make it easy to cite sources in different styles and put them in folders, so they are easy to find. Also, they have features like annotating and tagging that make it easy to find information when you need it. These tools make organizing references and creating bibliographies much easier and faster than manually doing it yourself.
  3. Organize your notes by topic or theme and use keywords to label them. This allows you to easily find what you need without having to sift through all of your notes. Additionally, try colour-coding similar topics or themes so that they stand out from each other and are easy to identify at a glance. Using this organizational strategy will make academic writing faster and more efficient.

3. Difficulty in outlining the structure of the paper

Organizing complex topics with multiple elements can be difficult. When attempting to outline the structure of a research paper, it is important to take some time upfront to think through how all the pieces fit together. Ask yourself questions about which data points are essential and what order they should go in for maximum clarity. Break up any big ideas into smaller pieces that are easy for readers to understand. Also, if you want to explain your ideas more clearly and quickly, you might want to use diagrams.

  1. Make a mind map or concept map to see how different ideas relate to one another. This method allows you to clearly visualize the relationships between different ideas and concepts that are present in your paper, helping you to create a structure quickly and easily. Mind maps involve writing down key words, phrases, or ideas related to your topic in circles or boxes and connecting them with arrows or lines. Depending on how detailed you want the outline of your paper to be, these connections can represent entire sections of text or smaller subsections within each section. This technique is useful for organizing information into clusters so that it’s easier to understand how everything fits together without having to write it all out in sentence form first. Additionally, this tool is helpful for those who may struggle with traditional outlining methods because creating a visual representation of their ideas makes it easier for them to break down their thoughts into more manageable pieces.
  2. Use a structure guide or template for your paper. The classic IMRD structure (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) is used a lot in academia because it helps organize information in a clear and logical way. In the introduction, you should give a brief summary of the topic you’ll be talking about and also introduce the main argument or thesis statement. In CHI papers, we also find a Related Works section right after the introduction that presents the main theories, models, or frameworks that inform your research. In the methods section, you explain how you went about researching and collecting data relevant to your topic. After that comes results, which display all of your findings through tables, graphs, and other means, followed by the discussion, which provides an analysis of those results in light of existing work as well as their implications for future studies. By following this basic structure, you can make sure that each section has all the necessary parts.
  3. Outline the structure of your paper before you begin writing. This can help provide clarity and direction for how you want to approach the topic and make sure that all of your ideas are logically linked together. You can start outlining, following the IMRD structure or IRMRD (in the case of CHI), to begin collecting your thoughts for each of the paper sections. You can also create more specific subtopics or evidence to support each argument within those sections. Once you’ve finished this, use it to create an outline that follows a logical flow from one point to the next so readers can easily understand what they’re reading. Additionally, if there are any gaps in your research or ideas that need further development, consider adding them to the outline, so they don’t get forgotten when you start writing!

4. Struggling with revising and editing

Revising and editing a research paper can be tricky to navigate. It may be hard to tell which parts of the paper need to be changed and how much needs to be changed for the paper to still make sense. Before making any changes, you should read through the whole document with an unbiased eye. This will give you a sense of how everything fits together and make it easier to figure out which parts need more attention or improvement. Also, watch out for mistakes in grammar or spelling. These should always be fixed right away. Focus on one section at a time instead of trying to tackle the whole paper at once.

  1. Set aside time for revisions and editing, and be honest about how much time it will take. Depending on the length of your paper and how much work it requires, this process could take anywhere from a few hours to several days. It is best not to underestimate how long this process can take; if you rush through it, then mistakes may still be present in your final version. For this task, quadrupling the time you thought it would take is a good estimate, though this is likely still an ideal.
  2. Get feedback from peers on your rough draft. This is a great way to get a fresh perspective on what you’ve written and make sure that it makes sense for readers outside of your own headspace. When seeking feedback, be sure to give people plenty of time so that other people have enough time to review and respond before the final deadline approaches.
  3. Use a grammar checker and proofreading software to help with editing. Grammar checkers are great for picking up on simple mistakes like typos, missing words, or incorrect word usage. Proofreading software helps identify structural issues such as sentence structure, clarity of language, and overall flow. Many modern tools offer both functionalities, and AI is getting really good at correcting your drafts (you can use ChatGPT to do it or Grammarly).

5. Not knowing how to seek feedback

Getting feedback from peers and professors can be scary, especially when the feedback is important. It can be hard to figure out who the right people are to help, and it can be even harder to let yourself be open to constructive criticism without getting down or losing motivation. But if you want to improve the quality of your research paper, it’s important to get useful feedback from experts in your field. Getting feedback on your work helps you become more resilient, and learning how to take criticism in a positive way can help you grow as a person as you write.

  1. Identify people with relevant expertise and experience to provide feedback. Identify these individuals before beginning your work, because their input can be invaluable for improving the quality of your paper. You can meet academic experts at a conference and build a network of them, or you can ask your professors for suggestions. You could also reach out to academics who have written similar works that you like and ask if they would be willing to give you feedback on yours. Once you’ve found possible sources of feedback, talk to each one separately and tell them why their help would be helpful and what they’d get out of helping you. Make it clear what kind of feedback you want so they can give you helpful advice as quickly as possible.
  2. Be open to constructive criticism and seek feedback early and often. When you get feedback on your research paper often, you can figure out what works well and what needs more work so that you can improve your paper in the right ways. By asking for feedback often while you’re writing, you’ll not only improve the accuracy and quality of your work, but you’ll also save time by avoiding rewrites that could have been avoided if you’d asked for feedback earlier in the project’s timeline.
  3. Use feedback to improve your paper, but remember that ultimately, it is your paper and you have the final say. Be open to constructive criticism and ideas from others, but also feel comfortable making the final decision about what changes will be made. After all, it’s your research paper, and only you can say how it should read when it’s done.

6. Not using productivity tools

When writing a research paper, time is valuable, so it can be tempting to avoid learning new tools and programs that can help you get things done faster. But if you take the time to learn how to use these tools correctly, they can save you a lot of time in the long run. Some word processors, for example, have features that make it easy to quickly add citations or make bibliographies without much work. Other helpful tools include project management software for keeping track of deadlines and to-do lists, as well as speech-to-text programs for turning audio interviews into text documents without having to type out each line by hand. In the end, putting in a little extra time up front to learn how to use these productivity tools will save you hours in the long run.

  1. Research and choose the tool that best suits your needs and goals. Do your research and find out which one is best for you. This could be something as simple as an online calendar or timer (shout out to LLamaLife) or more advanced software like project management apps or word processors with built-in features like spell checkers and grammar checkers. Each tool has its own benefits, so it’s important to look at what’s out there before deciding on one. Also, if you have access to free trials of any programs, use them. They can give you an idea of how easy (or hard) it is to use certain tools before you decide to buy anything.
  2. Take the time to learn how to use the tool effectively. Take the time to learn how these tools work and how to use them in your workflow to get the most out of them. By learning how to use these tools correctly, you can save yourself hours or even days of work. Start by reading user guides or watching online tutorials. Sometimes you will also need to try and fail.
  3. Experiment with different tools and settings to find what works best for you. Some people might like one type of software or way of taking notes more than another. By trying out different tools and settings, you can find the best way to use them for you in terms of efficiency and productivity. This could mean trying out new apps, changing the way you work, or looking into options like voice recognition software.

7. Dealing with writer’s block

Writer’s block can be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome when writing research papers. It can lead to a lack of inspiration, originality, and creativity, which may leave you feeling stuck in your paper. Taking a break and talking about your ideas with peers or mentors who know about the topic or have experience with academic writing can give you valuable feedback and tips on what could be done better. Lastly, online resources will help you add new information to your paper and get you thinking creatively about possible solutions or points of view related to the topic.

  1. Take a break and engage in activities that inspire you. Instead of forcing yourself to write your research paper, take a break and do something else. This could mean taking a walk outside, talking to friends or family, listening to music, reading a book, or making something new in the kitchen. It could be anything that gives you energy and new ideas. By giving yourself this time, your mind will be able to calm down and start over.
  2. Experiment with different writing techniques. Here are two examples. Freewriting is when you set a timer for five minutes and write without stopping. This lets you get all of your thoughts on the page without worrying about grammar or structure. Brainstorming is another good way to find new ideas. It works best when done in groups, where everyone talks about what they think and feel about the subject at hand. Both of these methods can help get your creative juices flowing and get you out of a rut if you’re having trouble writing.
  3. Seek inspiration from outside sources, such as books, articles, or podcasts. Reading a book about your topic might help you come up with more ideas and get in the creative mood you need to write your research paper. On the other hand, if you read an interesting article about the topic, you might get some new ideas that could help you shape your argument. Listening to a relevant podcast while doing other research paper-related tasks can also be helpful. This way, you can stay interested in the material without having to write anything down.

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