As a writing tutor I saw every mistake in the book. From papers with so many grammatical errors they were impossible to read to flawless ones that made no sense. I developed a quick and easy strategy for addressing the most important issue in each paper, and for helping students realize that mistakes in their work. No essay is perfect, but if you keep these things in mind you just might come close.
1) Make sure you understand the assignment
I can’t repeat this enough. You need to know what you’re supposed to write before you begin writing. Even if you’re sure you understand the assignment, don’t hesitate to email your ideas to your professor and double check. You’re professor knows exactly what he wants you to write and he’s the best person to provide feedback.
2) Your paper should be longer than 5 paragraphs
In high school the 5 paragraph rule is usually the standard. Every teacher wants an intro, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion that wraps it all together. But that’s not going to cut it in college. Sure you still need an intro and a conclusion, but the body of your essay needs to be much more in-depth. If you’re struggling, keep in mind that every new idea should have its own paragraph even if it’s only 1 sentence long.
3) Do your research
I once had a professor tell me that if a student turned in a paper with 2 ½ resources per page he probably wouldn just give it an A without reading it. Of course he was joking, but the point is that if you really do your research your professor is going to be impressed. Citing multiple scholarly sources shows you care about the assignment and that you made every effort to write the best paper possible.
4) Don’t Quote…Paraphrase Instead
Long, blustery quotes are really nice. They take up almost half a page and involve almost no effort on your part. But the abrupt change in style or tone can really throw off your paper and confuse readers. Instead, put what they say in your own words. Not only will this make your paper read better, but it will also impress your professor more. Rephrasing the information in your own words shows you actually understand it. Just remember to cite your source
5) Avoid Plagiarism
Professors love to see research, but only when it’s accurately cited. Plagiarism can have serious consequences, so do your best to cite your sources and avoid stealing other people’s ideas. If you need help with citations I recommend Perdue University’s “Online Writing Lab.” It’s a great resource for MLA and APA style guides.
6) Stay on Topic
The focus of your paper is very important. Halfway through your discussion of Van Gogh’s unique brushwork you should not begin a tangent on what is missing from modern artwork. If you find you can’t stay focused, try writing it all down in an outline. Make sure everything links together and nothing appears out of the blue.
7) Read Your Essay Aloud
Grammar should not be your biggest concern. Your first priority should be to make sure your paper makes sense, flows well, and stays focused. But before you turn it in, take a moment to read it over. Spell-check isn’t flawless, and reading your story aloud gives you the opportunity to catch mistakes you’d ordinarily miss.
While I can’t guarantee you an A on your next paper, following these guidelines will definitely help you to write a strong paper. No matter what class it’s for.