How to Write an Independent Study Paper


Writing a paper for an independent study program can be intimidating for students, especially because the study program takes place primarily outside the classroom and away from other students. While students generally receive feedback and direction from a teacher, they are fully responsible for completing assignments and retaining subject matter. Independent study paper writing is a skill that takes time to develop, but with practice and organization, students can learn how to write a paper and communicate their topic clearly.

Things You'll Need

  • Calendar
  • Index cards
  • Colored pen
  • Computer
  • Word-processing software
  • Printer
  • Writing style guide
  • Familiarize yourself with the requirements for your paper. If necessary, communicate with your independent study teacher for further clarification.

  • Create a schedule to avoid getting off track or turning your paper in late. On a calendar, mark the number of days you think you need to complete your paper and how much time you will allot each day to work on it. Leave enough open days that hours can be added later if you need more time to write than you thought. Be sure to designate at least two hours for proofreading and editing at the end.

  • Identify your ideal writing environment, and arrange your schedule so that you have time to write. Make sure your work environment has plenty of light and space for you to spread out your books and writing materials as you work.

  • Identify the topic of your paper. If you are allowed to choose the paper topic, make sure it is an interesting subject that will capture the reader's attention. Try not to select a topic that is too general for you to cover in a single paper. If you are not confident in your topic choice, consult with your independent study teacher before you start writing.

  • Locate sources that contain information you do not know about the topic. Double check your requirements for the paper to see how many sources (if any) are required. Often independent study students will receive a book recommendations list. Read the list to see whether any sources are applicable to your paper topic.

  • Set aside one index card per source, and write the bibliographic information for each source on a separate card. This will help you compile your bibliography at the end and keep your sources organized.

  • Read your sources, and write pertinent notes on the index card that corresponds with the source.

  • Reevaluate your calendar schedule. If you are still on track, keep writing! If you need more time than you thought, add more hours to ensure that you have enough time to complete your paper before the due date.

  • Create an outline for your paper. Incorporate the index cards into the outline where appropriate.

  • Write an introduction to your paper. Include a brief overview of your topic along with your thesis statement or main argument. Although you will cite most of your sources in the body of the paper, you may need to cite one or two sources in the introduction if your introduction includes material taken from outside sources.

  • Evaluate your schedule again. If you find yourself overwhelmed by writing, designate times during your independent study hours to take short breaks. Sometimes you need to allow your mind to rest in order to maintain your sense of motivation.

  • Write the body of your paper according to your outline. Make sure you use the body of your paper to support your argument or to address the specific points of your topic.

  • Cite your sources where appropriate in the introduction. Review your independent study paper requirements to see what kind of citation style is required for the format of your in-text citations and final bibliography.

  • Write the conclusion of your paper by recapping your main points and finalizing your argument.

  • Compile your bibliography or works cited page by using your index cards. Make sure you format the sources according to the citation style required for the independent study paper.

  • Write a title for your paper that captures your topic and makes the reader want to know more about it. Consult your independent study paper requirements to see whether they include specifications for formatting the title page.

  • Proofread the paper by reading your computer document or printing it out and making handwritten changes with a colored pen. Do not skip this step. Your independent study teacher will expect the work you submit to be polished and easy to read.

  • Reread the requirements for the independent study paper before submission to make sure you have completed everything accordingly.

  • Write notes on your calendar about your writing experience in relation to time and organization. These notes will help you the next time you write an independent study paper and need to create a schedule.


  • Photo Credit Jetta Productions/Lifesize/Getty Images
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