Exactly 26 days ago, I submitted my junior paper on U.S. immigration policy.
To repeat: I wrote a JP, I submitted it, and it’s completely done.
I couldn’t imagine writing those words back in September, when everything about junior independent work seemed completely overwhelming. I struggled to find a topic because I had limited experience with the scholarly field of U.S immigration. After choosing, and then changing, my paper topic, I needed to recruit participants, schedule interviews, and transcribe every word the participants said. All that led to a 24 page draft (written during Thanksgiving break, of course) and two subsequent drafts before I submitted the final paper on January 5th.
While I enjoy talking about my fall JP in the past tense, my upcoming spring JP necessitates a return to the present. This time, however, there is one crucial difference: I finally know how JPs work. And that understanding can revolutionize a scholarly independent project — because once you know how JPs work, their long page limits and enormous possibilities no longer seem scary. So, here are 4.5 things I want to remind myself (and share with you) about the JP process:
1) You can do it!
It might seem impossible to start with nothing and end up with two dozen pages of original research in one semester — especially when you’re juggling other classes. But somehow, every A.B. junior finds a way to get it done. The best way to stay on track is to set realistic personal deadlines and stick to them: Consider 2 weeks to come up with a research design, 3 weeks to collect data, 2 weeks to write the first draft, and 3 weeks to revise based on your adviser’s feedback. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’ll do this next week” — because next week, you have to do next week’s things. This week, do this week’s things. You’ll be well on your way to the finished project.
2) Bibliographies are your best friend
Having trouble finding sources? Has your keyword search at http://library.princeton.edu/ yielded only one relevant article? That might seem like a problem, but it’s actually not — because one article can lead to tons of others. The bibliography, oft-overlooked or even unprinted in the name of saving paper, will provide a great overview of the scholarly field you’re working with. Comb through sources from the first relevant article in order to save time and piggyback off work that’s already been done. Helping you go from 1 source to 100 is what bibliographies (and good friends) are for.
3) Bibliographies are your worst enemy
Bibliographies aren’t always fun to be around — because creating your own is impossibly tedious. You don’t need me to explain this. You know. It’s awful. Pre-JP, I would save bibliographies until the end as a you-finished-the-hard-part-so-do-this-brainless-task-while-listening-to-your-favorite-music celebration. That’s not a good idea for a paper with 52 citations — You’ll mix up the papers you’re talking about, or lose the page you’re quoting. Plainly, it’s a mess. Deal with your enemies first by creating the bibliography as you go along. Every time you cite, add an entry to the bibliography. Use a service like Zotero to streamline the process even more.
4) Don’t be afraid of the delete button
Your first draft will explore a lot of interesting avenues, but several of them will end up tangential to your final paper. It’s almost inevitable to have 2 or 3 pages of unnecessary information in your first attempt at a paper of this length. Regardless of how hard you worked (and how painful it feels to erase words from the page), expect to delete substantial chunks of text. Doing so will improve the focus of your paper and give you more room to go into detail on central arguments. You can actually salvage some of your previous efforts by mentioning them as areas for future study — questions “beyond the scope of this paper”. Since you might be the one working on those future studies, it’s a good idea to keep a separate file with all of your deleted sections.
4.5) You can’t fit 47 slides in a 20 minute presentation (something I actually thought would work)
Once you’ve finished writing your paper, you may not be done with the JP process. Many departments require juniors to present their research either orally or using a poster. If your department calls for a PowerPoint presentation — like my WWS policy seminar did — then the delete button still matters as you start to compile slides. Your first instinct will be to include slides for every argument and sub-argument, with additional slides of supporting evidence for each. That’s a whole lot of slides. But when your JP presentation is limited to 20 minutes, you can’t just ‘talk faster’ to get through all of them. As a result, you need to apply the lessons from your first draft to your final presentation: focus on key takeaways and give each of them the attention they deserve.
There are certainly more than 4.5 things to keep in mind while writing your second JP, but these tips are a good place to start. Let us know what you need to remember — or want to learn — about the JP process by filling out this form. And juniors, get excited to start (or finish) your second round of independent work!
— Melissa Parnagian, Chief Correspondent