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 ADHD is about a month into the school year, and they are 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 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 them follow these simple steps:

Organization Is Key

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

2. Ask them 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 them write down his thoughts under each heading.
If ADHD or ADD impedes their focus, it’s important to get the ideas out of their brain and down on paper before they lose them.

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

4. Find a desk calendar that displays the whole month at a glance.
Using different-colored markers, have them draw a star next to the day they are beginning the assignment and a star next to the day that the paper is due. Cross off any days they 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 they can about his topic.

Have them start by skimming the books and magazines they’ve collected on that first day — without taking notes. They should be looking for stimulating ideas.

Helpful hint: If they need a visual aid to focus their efforts, have them 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 they’d like to cover. For instance, one line might be labeled “Physical Features,” another, “Location and Migration.”

[Free Download: Learning Tools That Improve Productivity, Reading and Writing Skills]

Group their many ideas into five, six, or seven topics that they want to cover in the report. For a paper on a whale, for instance, they 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 they’ll need for the special project — poster board, glue, photos of whales, and so forth — and purchasing them. Put these away for now; they will use them in week three.

Helpful hint: When your child comes home from school, ask them to spend 20-30 minutes a day on the research report, as if it were homework. If they break 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 them capture the fact in a simple sentence, using their own words. For example, under the Food category, they might write: “An orca whale eats a thousand pounds of krill every day.”

Helpful hint: If they 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 they writes down additional facts.

Place each category of cards in its own shoebox, so that all information relating to that topic is at their 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 they 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,” they 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 them type or write the rough draft from the numbered, paper-clipped cards. Each grouping becomes a paragraph in the research paper.

Read through the 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, they can make a colorful cover page that includes a title, their name, and the date.

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

OK, they did it! They picked a topic, collected and organized a ton of information, and created a fabulous, informative report. Now all that’s left to do is hand it in, sit back, and wait for the grade. Which will undoubtedly be an A.

[Free Resource: The Big List of ADHD School Resources from ADDitude]