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Writing Resource Center: Writing Help

The mission of the Writing Resource Center at the American Academy of Art is to promote student success by supporting students in their pursuit of their academic goals.

Writing Tips: Research Papers

Getting Started

  • Read the prompt and rubric over a couple times and make sure you understand the outcomes of the assignment.  Now is the time to ask your instructor questions about the assignment in general.
  • DO NOT WAIT TOO LONG BEFORE STARTING!!! Pace yourself, but don’t procrastinate.  If your teacher didn’t set intermediate deadlines, set them for yourself.
  • Brainstorm and take notes about what you might like to write about.
    • ​​If you’re writing a research paper, try to choose a topic that you won’t get tired of quickly, as you’ll most likely be working closely with the material for an extended period of time.
    • Use word webs or idea maps, bullet points, notes, or even doodles to spark ideas for yourself.
  • ​​​Research your topic.
    • Using the library's database or another scholarly/appropriate resource, start to research your topic using keywords or buzzwords.
    • Find a handful of sources that you know you’ll use. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many sources, you can always come back for more!
    • Read through your source and take helpful notes on another sheet of paper. Highlighting within the source is another technique some use, but you’re more likely to truly absorb the material if you physically write down your thoughts.
    • If you’re having trouble finding sources, there’s lots of research help on our library website (or you can always ask your teacher, librarian, or writing center rep for assistance navigating the databases!)


  • Organize your original thoughts and notes from the sources into an outline. This doesn’t have to be perfectly formatted. It’s for your eyes only to start structuring and organizing your ideas.
  • The most efficient way to organize your outline is chronologically.
  • A good research paper has an introduction paragraph at the beginning and a conclusion paragraph at the end.  
  • Anything in the middle is referred to as the body paragraphs. Organize your body by topics and subtopics.
  • Make sure that when you get to this point you’re paraphrasing or quoting anything that comes directly from a source! Make note of which source your information is from, as this will help you with in-text citations writing your paper!

Writing and Formatting

  • So it’s finally time to write your paper for real.
  • A paragraph is typically 6-8 sentences. Don’t feel confined to those numbers, but use that as a guide!
  • Don’t feel that you need to write your paper in the order that it’ll be read! If you’ve got writer's block, move on and come back.
    • Avoid “I” “we” “us” “you”. DO NOT WRITE IN FIRST OR SECOND PERSON!
    • Avoid contractions (won’t, don’t, isn’t, it’s, etc.) If it’s got an apostrophe and it’s not possessive, get it out!! (When you must, replace with: will not, do not, is not, it is, etc.)
    • Do not repeat the same phrases or words in the same paragraph, and try not to repeat the same thoughts at all in your paper. It’s easy to just start rewording the same idea over and over to take up space, but don’t do that.
    • Avoid cliches, slang, sarcasm, and hostility.
    • Avoid filler words (really, extremely, absolutely, etc.), sweeping adjectives (amazing, extraordinary, outstanding, incredible, outlandish, awful, horrible, etc.), and quantifiers (a little, definitely, mostly, etc.)
    • When referring to an object or a person always name it before using “it,” “he,” “she,” etc.
    • Avoid passive voice (“The study was done by the scientist” → “The scientist conducted the study”)
  • Review your rubric! Make sure you know how your teacher expects you to format your work before you start writing!
  • Be sure to use proper headings, title page formats, page numbering, etc. for MLA, APA, or whichever standard paper format your instructor assigns.
  • There is a whole section on citation assistance on the WRC website! Be sure to check that out if you’re having trouble citing your sources or writing a work cited page.

Revising and Proofreading

  • If you can, take a step back! When you’re finished writing take a break. Get a snack, watch some YouTube videos, or work on your art, other homework, or something else before trying to revise your work.
  • REREAD YOUR RUBRIC AGAIN! Make sure you’ve covered all of the outcomes.
  • When proofreading your paper, read it out loud! You will catch more typos and any awkwardness much faster this way!
  • Go through once and make sure you’ve said all you want to say!
  • A second time to make sure that everything looks grammatically correct and in the correct order.
  • Scan it over a third time to make sure the formatting looks correct. Is there a weird spacing issue or a page number missing? Is everything indented properly? Is your name on it?
  • Lastly! Bring it to the Writing Resource Center!  Make an appointment online and upload your paper so a fresh set of eyes can read your work ahead of time and we can talk about it together when you come in!!

Helpful Writing Links

Writing Tips: Creative Writing

General Tips

  • READ! The more you read, the better your writing will be. Fact.
  • If you’re stuck, brainstorm or even doodle!
  • Avoid cliches.
  • Sign up for creative writing workshops so you can meet other writers. Here you can learn new techniques, get ideas flowing with other creatives, and give you access to constructive criticism.
  • Write often, every day if you can. It doesn’t have to be good and no one has to read it, just write to keep practicing.
  • BREATHE! Step back from your main focus every once in a while.
  • If you’ve really hit a wall try talking to your friends and family. Often you won’t use these ideas, but they can spark something in your own mind.
  • Don’t be afraid to do some research.


  • Know what you’re trying to say or express
  • Try writing in form (sonnet, haiku, limerick, etc.)
  • You don’t have to rhyme! In fact, if it’s not a critical aspect of your work, don't. If you are drawn to rhyme or meter, do a little research on different rhyming schemes and techniques instead of ending each line with cat, hat, bat, sat, fat, mat, nat, etc.
  • Make revisions...or don’t.
  • A lot of successful poetry is calculated and drafted until it’s “done.” Ask yourself questions and make choices about your work! Show your work to others and get their feedback! Do they get what you wanted to say? Do they need to? Did they respond the way you intended them to?
  • OR! Use poetry as a tool to jump-start your creativity! When you have writer’s block, be spontaneous and expressive! Try writing down your stream of consciousness, this is considered poetry as well.


  • Know your audience and your genre.
  • Create believable characters and know who they are! Get to know the people you’re writing about as if they’re real. Know what they would say or do in a situation so dialogue sounds natural.
  • Remember that your main character should have flaws and should somehow change throughout the story, for better or for worse (unless there is a purpose of them to remain static.)
    • “The character was cold because it was snowing” →  “The character shivered as snow fell onto her face”
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with subplots. You can always add more. The main plot should be the meatiest part of your story, so don’t distract your readers too much from it.
  • Avoid too many cliffhangers. If your story and your writing are good, your audience will keep reading without you having to chop it into pieces.
  • Avoid “deus ex machina!!!” This is something you put in your story that magically fixes all the unfixable problems just in the nick of time for that happy ending.
  • You don’t need to have that happy ending.
  • You don’t need to write in order! If you’re stuck, move on, you can come back at any time!
  • If you don’t know how your story ends yet, write questions for yourself to answer as you go.
  • Revise, revise, revise!! But keep writing. Don’t get stuck rewriting the same thing over and over before the rest of your story is on paper.

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Find a format that works for you. Whether it’s a weekly installment of a web series or a full-on graphic novel, know your plan before you start.
  • Develop a style that works for you in both your writing and your art; however, make sure that the tone of your writing and the look of your art compliment each other.
  • Think in images. Think about your concept as a movie instead of as a book. Picture the actions and remember to keep your story moving.
  • Avoid making your script too wordy.  You want your reader to keep moving through your panels! If you can get something across in 2 panels instead of 7, do it!
  • If you’re not the artist, make sure you find one that you work well with. Set deadlines. You’re the art director in this scenario, don’t lose your vision.
  • If you’re not the artist, write your work as a script so the artist can clearly understand what you’re going for. You can also provide storyboards or rough sketches for your artist!
  • Writing a script before drawing anything is also helpful if you’re doing the art yourself. Have a plan before you spend hours rendering stuff.

Scripts and Screenplays

  • Are you writing for stage or screen? Determine the format so you can write realistically for the media your script is intended for.
  • Familiarize yourself with Script or Screenwriting lingo. If you’re writing for stage you’ll want to know what “stage left” means. You’ll need a general knowledge of tv, film, or stage in order to write accurate directions.
  • Outline your story before getting caught up writing wordy dialogue and stage directions.
  • Have your characters speak believably. Use the vernacular of the setting. If your story is set in 18th Century London, you’re not going to hear stuff like “dude” or “lit.” If your story is set in 2018 Chicago, people won’t call umbrellas “bumbershoots.”
  • ACTION! Try to limit the amount of time any character spends explaining something. Like writing a novel, you want to show, not tell. In theory this should be easier since your audience will actually get to see the action. So make sure you write with that action in mind.
  • Write clear and concise stage directions.
  • Utilize the cliffhanger. You want your audience to tune in next week or stick around after intermission. Leave them wanting more.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut things!! You only want to keep the good parts. Your audience will get restless if you show them anything else. Remember, when you’re writing a play or a movie, it should be roughly 2 hours. Any longer and you’ll lose people.
  • Chekhov’s Gun!
    • Avoid making false promises.
    • “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired, otherwise don’t put it there,” Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov
  • Remove anything from your script that isn’t relevant to the story. People don’t care what your character’s favorite color is if it doesn’t matter to the plot or the overall understanding of their personality.

Artist Statements

  • Understand what the statement will be used for. Is it about your general work, a specific project or series, a biography, or an explanation of a specific piece?
  • Avoid:
    • Empty expressions and cliches
    • Too many wordy and meaningless sentences or too much technical vocabulary
    • Over-explaining
    • Talking too much about your process or materials
    • Telling stories about yourself or your personal background unless it’s very relevant to your work
    • Bragging
    • Redundancy
  • Ask yourself a lot of questions about your work and why you do what you do.
  • Write in first person and try not to exceed one page. It’s not a dissertation.
  • Be honest!
  • For more info check out our very own library website and don’t hesitate to ask your professors!  Most, if not all of them, have written one themselves!

List of Helpful Sites