Write Better Papers—A Big Picture View

In some classes, papers are high stakes—a single paper could make up 40% of your grade. In classes where the majority of your grade is determined by papers, you need to step back and develop a plan of attack. This is what I recommend.

First, think about your audience. Your audience is a professor with a stack of papers to grade. A professor grading 10 page papers in a class of 30 students is effectively reading and grading a book. Of the professors I have known over the last 20 years, not a single one likes grading. In fact, the majority would put it at the top of the list for the most disliked parts of the job. Write a halfway decent paper and you will be rewarded.

Assemble the resources at your disposal. Is there a rubric? If there is, the professor will judge your paper against this. Write to satisfy the rubric. Your university has a writing center. Make use of it, especially if you are a good writer. The poor staff people at the writing center spend long hours reading low quality work. You would not believe how excited they get when someone with writing skills seeks out their help.

Once you have your thesis statement, share it with your professor. Ask if it is an acceptable thesis statement for the assignment. Your professor will be happy you asked long before the paper is due.

Do not use a thesaurus to liven up your writing. It almost always makes your paper worse. And unless the terms are frequently used in class, avoid fancy terms when a normal word will suffice. Depending on the class, a discussion of the hegemony of white male lead actors on TV shows might be appropriate for an assignment. Yet, there is never a reason to make a perspicuous argument when you could instead make a clear and convincing argument.

Write a little bit each day. I tell my own students to write for at least 15 minutes every day, whether they have an assignment or not. Writing well is a skill, and it improves with regular practice.

Use an online editing tool like Hemingwayapp to check your prose. I use this tool in my own professional writing. It is like having your own personal editor on call at all times.

Finally, you need to proof read your work in addition to spell checking it. A spell checker will make sure words are spelled correctly. And yet, “eye have a spelling checker” will not show up as wrong. When proofreading, read your paper out loud. This will help you find mistakes much more easily.

Follow these tips and you will have a paper worthy of an A.

This entry was posted in academic success, job skills, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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