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How to write a graduate-level essay

Step-by-step guidance and resources for planning, researching, and writing essays as a graduate student.

Absorbing information

People often highlight information that they want to retain. That is a good start but learning is stronger when we hand write notes about the material. Here are two other strategies to help you retain information from the resources you collect:

  1. Hand write bullet points to capture the ideas. For each chunk of information (perhaps a paragraph, or a grouping of paragraphs) write a few descriptive words in the margin of the printout or on a sticky note that you can attach to the page. Then when you need to review the material you can quickly glance through your notes rather than re-read/skim the original text. 
  2. Taking this idea a little further, put the resource away after you have read a chunk of text and write out your own summary of the important ideas. The summarizing will make the information more personally meaningful to you. Make sure to note where you retrieved the information, though, so finding the original source can be  quick and easy if you decide to paraphrase the text in your paper.

For additional suggestions, please visit I Can't Focus or Remember in the Anxiety About Reading guide.

Use a citation manager to organize your research

Consider using a citation manager to store and organize your readings and reflections. Citation managers are software that can help you:

  • Collect and keep track of the articles, books, and other documents you find during your literature searches (like your own personalized library)
  • Organize those citations into folders
  • Read your PDFs, take notes, and extract quotations
  • Automatically generate and format in-text citations and bibliographies of citations in whatever citation style you choose (eg, APA, MLA, Chicago etc).

There are many citation managers out there, but RRU Library recommends and supports Zotero. Some advantages of Zotero:

  • free and open-source
  • compatible with Word and Google Docs
  • easily create group folders to share with teammates
  • access your library across multiple devices or from the "cloud"
  • mobile app available

Ready to get started? Our Zotero Help Guide.will help walk you through the steps of downloading, installing, and using Zotero.