Homework & Studying

How to Complete a Big Paper

A step-by-step plan for choosing, researching, organizing, writing, and submitting a winning term paper for school.

ADHD Woman using laptop sitting at office
ADHD Woman using laptop sitting at office

Your child with attention deficit (ADHD) is about a month into the school year, and he’s getting the hang of the routines, new teachers, and different classes. He’s doing OK — keeping up with the math reviews and reading assignments. But now the teacher throws him the curveball you knew was coming — the first long research paper.

The honeymoon is over! You want your child to make a great first impression by managing this long assignment. But where do you and your child begin? Stop worrying. Have him follow these simple steps:

Organization Is Key

1. Pick a topic he enjoys.
If the assignment is, say, about whales, have your child choose a type that interests him — the humpback, the orca, the blue. It’s easier to write about something that he finds intriguing, or that he already knows something about.

[Free Resource: 18 Writing Tricks for Students with ADHD]

2. Ask him to grab three pieces of paper and label them with the following headings:
“What I know,” “What I need to learn,” and “Visuals to accompany the written report.”

3. Have him write down his thoughts under each heading.
If ADHD impedes his focus, it’s important to get the ideas out of his brain and down on paper before he loses them.

4. Find a desk calendar that displays the whole month at a glance.
Using different-colored markers, have him draw a star next to the day he’s beginning the assignment and a star next to the day that the paper is due. Cross off any days he won’t be able to work on the report because of other commitments, then count the remaining days until the due date. Divide the number of workdays into three week-long sections.

Week One

Ask your child to go to the local library, look through bookshelves at home, log on to the Internet, and collect as much information as he can about his topic.

[The Common Causes Behind Writer’s Block]

Have him start by skimming the books and magazines he’s collected on that first day — without taking notes. He should be looking for stimulating ideas.

Helpful hint: If he needs a visual aid to focus his efforts, have him draw a circle on a separate piece of paper and label it “Humpback Whale.” Extend lines from it and label each spoke with a topic area he’d like to cover. For instance, one line might be labeled “Physical Features,” another, “Location and Migration.”

Group his many ideas into five, six, or seven topics that he wants to cover in the report. For a paper on a whale, for instance, he might include Physical Features, Food, Mating and Offspring, Location and Migration, Endangered or Not, Interesting Facts.

The week should be spent making a list of materials he’ll need for the special project — poster board, glue, photos of whales, and so forth — and purchasing them. Put these away for now; he will use them in week three.

[Assistive Technology to Close the Learning Gap]

Helpful hint: When your child comes home from school, ask him to spend 20-30 minutes a day on his research report. If he breaks down the project into smaller pieces, the work becomes more manageable.

Week Two

Using different-colored index cards for each topic — green for Physical Features and red for Food, say — your child should read through the collected material and write down one fact on a single card. (Kids in the seventh and eighth grades can get several facts on one card.) Have him capture the fact in a simple sentence, using his own words. For example, under the Food category, he might write: “An orca whale eats a thousand pounds of krill every day.”

Helpful hint: If he needs a larger space to write on, use lined paper in a binder, with colored dividers to separate the topic areas. The colored tabs will make it easy to flip from one topic to the next as he writes down additional facts.

Place each category of cards in its own shoebox, so that all information relating to that topic is at his fingertips. All green cards will go in one box, and so on.

On a separate piece of paper, your child should write down a list of the books/authors and materials he used. A bibliography is usually a part of a research report — and if it isn’t, making one will impress the teacher.

Helpful hint: Include cards for introductory and concluding paragraphs for each topic area.

Week Three

Working with one shoebox at a time, your child should lay all the cards on a table, paper-clip similar information together, and number each packet of cards. For instance, under “Food,” he might group together the information about krill and the small fish that orcas eat near the surface of the ocean. Another grouping might be larger fish that orcas consume, and how deep they have to dive to hunt them.

Have him type or write his rough draft from the numbered, paper-clipped cards. Each grouping becomes a paragraph in the research paper.

Read through his rough draft to make sure that information is organized clearly and makes sense. This is also a good time to check for misspellings and punctuation. While you are proofreading, he can make a colorful cover page that includes a title, his name, and the date.

Once he retypes a final draft of the written report, he can start working on the fun part — the visuals.

OK, he did it! He picked a topic, collected and organized a ton of information, and created a fabulous, informative report. Now all he needs to do is to hand it in, sit back, and wait for his grade. Which will undoubtedly be an A.

Updated on September 27, 2017

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