How to Write a Paper in 8 Steps
3 min read

How to Write a Paper in 8 Steps

How to Write a Paper in 8 Steps

As a part of my goal to become a note maker instead of just a note taker, I'm starting with the smart note bible: How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens.

This book has been on my list for while and I don't know why it's taken me this long to finally open it!

But now that I have I'm completely sucked in and loving every minute. Sönke offers a very calming presence in a topic that widely causes quite a bit of stress and hang-wringing.

By breaking everything down into simple and easy to understand steps he makes you feel that yes, you too can be a writer.

One of the topics covered is essay writing, a task that has struck fear into my heart many times.

In his book, Sönke breaks this task down into 8 simple steps:

1. Take "fleeting notes".

These are the quick jot-downs that happen anytime, anywhere. I'm reminded of the quick entry/inbox aspect of GTD (Getting Things Done). Always have some way to get your thoughts and ideas out of your head right away. That way they wont be forgotten, or worse, take up precious memory real estate.

2. Take "literature notes".

Literature notes are similar to fleeting notes, but are taken specifically when you are reading. Jot down whatever thoughts come to mind, and don't copy word for word. These should be in your own words and short. The purpose of these notes is to jog your memory later on when you go to write your own material.

3. Time for "permanent notes".

This is where magic starts to happen. Go through your fleeting and literature notes and start to think about how they connect, both to each other and to other notes and research you've already done. Use these connections to form new ideas. These ideas will form your permanent notes, one idea per note. Write them assuming that whoever reads them has no idea what you're talking about beforehand.

4. Add these new permanent notes to your note-taking-system.

Sönke explains this in the context of the Zettlekasten system, but if you aren't using that here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep each note with related notes.
  2. Link related notes together (software that has a backlinking feature makes this easy).
  3. Make your note discoverable by linking to it from something like an MOC (map of content).

5. Form your projects and topics using a bottom up approach.

Rather than forcing yourself into a certain direction, let your current notes, curiosity, questions and serendipitous note collisions guide you. Build on top of what you've already put together and never start from a blank page.

6. Write when a topic is ready to come out.

Soon enough you will have enough notes and ideas on a topic that it can't help but be written. Look for your notes that are connected and relevant to this topic. Organize these notes, put them in order, and get rid of redundancies. This step should come together easily. If it doesn't, don't worry about going back a few steps.

7. Create your rough draft.

Don't just copy, but build out your argument in a clear and coherent way. Go back a few steps if there are holes in your argument and do more research.

8. Finish the final draft.

Do your final editing and proofing. Wahoo, you're done!!

So what do you think, sounds easy right? Will you try out these steps for your own essay writing?


Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (p. 26). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

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