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How to Write an Undergraduate-Level Essay

Step-by-step guidance and resources for planning, researching, and writing essays as an undergraduate 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 digital tool such as a citation manager to help you electronically store and organize your readings and reflections. Citation management software can help you collect and keep track of the articles, books, and other documents you reference in your academic writing. As you conduct your literature searches, you can use your citation manager to capture and store useful citations and their PDFs.

Citation managers can also generate in-text citations and reference lists.

The two citation managers that RRU Library supports both have plug-ins for Microsoft Word, enabling you to drop citations out of your account and into your paper as you write. When your paper is done, you can use your citation manager to create a reference list for just those citations you used. If you prefer, citation managers can also be used to generate a stand-alone bibliography.

All in-text citations and references created automatically by any computer program should be double-checked to ensure the formatting is correct before submitting the work.

There are many citation managers to choose from. Two of the most popular are Mendeley and Zotero. Both require you to set up an online account and install software on the computer(s) you use to conduct your literature searches. Your collection of citations and articles live ‘in the cloud’ and can be easily synchronized across the computers and devices you use to conduct your work.

We have created tools to introduce Mendeley and Zotero, but because both are robust services with extensive support communities you will also find lots of other instructional material on the open web.

Mendeley - For more information about Mendeley, please begin with our Mendeley Help Guide.

Zotero - For more information about Zotero, please begin with our Zotero Help Guide.