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Enjoy Writing your Paper

Starting a report, elaborato, persentation, thesina, thesis, article or book can be a cause of anguish, but doing and completing it, of joy. Here are some tips…

Begin with the end in mind.

  • What format is required? Get a copy of the template right from the beginning, and draft your paper using the template – with the corresponding page type, font type and size, line spacing, margins, footnoting if required, reference style, etc., etc.
  • Format the title page immediately, as well as the dedication page, outine, bibliography, initial pages of chapters (and if you need to force them into odd pages so they are at the right side, not on the left), section breaks, etc.
  • What are the expcectations? For the Master’s and Licentiate, it is to show that you know how to do research. For the Doctorate, to contribute something new.
  • As a student, you are not expected to change the course of ecclesiastical sciences. Your contribution will not have to be something extraordinary, or even significant in day to day life or in the academe.
  • Those who make great contributions in the academe are professors who have been teaching for many years. They spend their life reading and publishing. On the other hand, for a student who is still far from their level, any minor contribution will suffice. Who knows, some other student or professor might pick up from where you left, after having read your recommendations for further study. Or you might be that scholar who can continue your own work.

Having a good theory is the most practical thing to do.

  • You need not chose a topic that people or communities could suddenly apply in their day to day life. Theoretical topics have their prime spots in universities.
  • Without the theory of relativity, there would be no nuclear energy. After its discovery, gasoline was just being discarded for more than 30 years, until the automobile that could use it for fuel was invented.

Learn from others.

  • Read on effective writing.
  • Go to the library and check the thesinae and thesis of those who also had your moderator. These will give you an idea of how to do your outline and other parts of your paper.
  • When you feel blocked, read some more, and change your approach. (Like in tennis, if you’re losing when playing baseline, try playing at the net.)
  • Ask others for tips, they might give you new insights.
  • Talk with other people regarding your topic (with experts if very technical) to get other points of view and broaden your horizon.
  • Even good writers always ask another person to review their work.

A draft is a draft is a draft.

  • Your first draft is, well, only a draft. You will not submit your first or second drafts yet.
  • For now do not worry too much about your grammar, puctuation, sentence construction, connection between paragpraphs, etc. It is useless to perfect drafts immediately, as you will surely modify most of the parts later on, or ask someone to edit it, so you will waste time perfecting and then revising them.
  • The first draft in particular should just be a matter of “downloading” all your ideas, yes, from your brain to your computer. Even the outline may initially be created as you note your ideas down.
  • Start the draft immediately. Not starting to write soon, and planning to submit later, is just delaying the agony.

Divide and conquer.

  • Immediately come up with a tentative outline, two or three levels deep. This way you have a clear roadmap even without the texts yet.
  • Modify the outline as needed, but once approved by the moderator, best would be not to modify the outline anymore.
  • Allot (or “budget”) a certain number of pages for each outline level. Target some 80% of whatever is required. So if you are asked to write 70 pages, your outline budget should reach some 50 pages, not more. This is because as you write, the tendency would be to expand and go over the allotment. Besides, you will have to add other pages such as outline, bibliography, etc., so the danger is uselessly overshooting the target – and in such case, you might be reqired to consolidate or remove many pages, wasting much of your time and effort.
  • Another danger if you overshoot is that you might be questioned as to your capacity to integrate the different sources and summarize them, to come up with your own thoughts. If you have to remove some pages, you might also be questioned why you removed certain ideas but not others.

Take quick breaks.

  • Unless you are a genius, a quick change of activity evey hour could help. Rest does not mean not doing anything, but engaging in some other activity, such as a coffee break, chatting a bit, some prayers, etc.
  • As you take your break, open your window for a few minutes for fresh air, even during winter. Letting oxygen in and carbon dioxide out will help you concentrate.

Take long breaks.

  • Depending on your work, it could be advantageous to work in tranches. Make an outline and a first draft quickly, do other things during the day or week, and return to your paper.
  • Working continuously can eventually saturate your brain. On the other hand, changing activites in between will allow you to discover new angles, even while walking, talking with others, reading the news, etc.
  • This means that you have to start working as far away from the deadline as possible, to gradually complete your paper way ahead of the deadline. This will also give you a chance to make a final review of your work.

Go techie, even if just a bit.

  • Make sure you have a way to quickly capture your thoughts wherever you are, even while waiting for the next appointment, riding the bus or train, attending a conference, etc. This could be as simple as creating an email draft without sending (but which is usually saved automatically), perhaps with the Subject line indicating the Chapter and section the idea is for.
  • You may also use a cloud-based word processor, but without opening the thesis file itself, so you do not wast time formating, rephrasing or looking for the page where to insert your idea.
  • A foldable bluetooth keyboard in your pocket would come in handy if you have to jot down a paragraph or more, as using the smartphone keypad will take much time.

Take good care of your health.

  • Academics is not everything. For health to be holistic, all the other pillars of formation have to be well taken care of: human, community, spiritual and pastoral as well. A student priest who prays little and seldom interacts with others is not an effective pastor.
  • Sleep 7.5 to 8 hours continuously. It is not the same as 5 hours’ sleep at night plus 2.5 hours siesta. This is because deep sleep sets in a few hours after you fall asleep, and is thus difficult to attain and sustain during a nap. A 3-hour reading would take 5 hours with lack of sleep; the 2-hour difference might as well be spent sleeping instead of reading while tired and sleepy.
  • Sleep is not a waste of time. It is when the body resets and removes toxins, preparing oneself to be more effective the next day.
  • Difficulty in sleeping could simply be caused by an overactive mind a few hours before sleeping. After dinner, if possible, avoid watching videos, scrolling through social media or doing some mentally stimulating activity. Doing some light reading or scheduling final prayers after dinner, and then going to sleep, might help, as well as reading a particularly boring document in bed. An option could be to sleep early to wake up early and start fresh the next morning.
  • Exercise.
  • Observe a healthy diet.
  • A simple weighing scale and blood pressure monitor could be among your best investments (aside from the foldable bluetooth keyboard).

The paper is never finished, it is abandoned…

  • There will always be some things that can be added or removed from any paper. New things come up, the author you are studying might suddenly publish another book, there could be development in doctrine, and so on.
  • Thus, it would be best to stick with your outline. If you suddenly discover something, your question should not be: “Where can I insert this in my paper?” Rather, your question should be: “Is my paper complete even without this new idea?”. If the answer to this second question is “yes”, you might as well simply file in your computer the references and your thoughts on this discovery; then later on, you may publish an academic paper on it, after you have earned your degree.
  • Unduly trying to be extremely complete, or delaying writing, will expose your paper to other contingencies, such as your or your moderator’s changes of health, pacing, assignment or other circumstances.
  • Set an early deadline for yourself, do as much as you can, and “abandon” your work… knowing that you can always continue your reflections on your own after you submit.
  • The thesina or thesis is NOT the summit of your academic life, it is NOT your ultimate masterpiece. Hopefully after earning the degree, you could continue studying and publishing, even if at a different pace. Presenting a paper is always the beginning of a new stage in your priesthood, situated within the ministry of scientific reflection on our faith.