What are some good tips for writing papers?
Make sure you don’t plagiarize! Be sure to follow the instructions to the letter, answer the question(s) thoroughly, do adequate research, ask for help if necessary & you should be able to submit successful papers if you follow these simple rules!
There’s no question that outlines can save you time, but be careful not to fall into the trap of only covering the bare minimum. If you’re the type of person who constantly thinks of new ideas as you write, keeping a notepad by your side through the entire process could be a better aid than a rigid outline. You can also write different sections of your paper in random order, and figure out how to arrange them later.
Using the same adjectives over and over in a short paper is a sure way to piss off a nitpicky professor. If you’ve stared at your computer for hours and exhausted all of a word’s variations, try out thesaurus.com, which gives you a lot more options than Microsoft Word’s thesaurus feature. You can also click on every synonym to get more ideas.
If you value your nerves you need to head to the library ASAP. You don’t want to be the person frantically flipping through the online card catalog (and if your school has the manual system, don’t even touch it) only to find out that your ten best sources are already checked out. For English and writing classes, you can often find full texts and summaries on SparkNotes—but the website doesn’t give the publisher’s information you’ll need for a bibliography. And sometimes professors like to see the actual sources, to make sure you’re not making them up. So do yourself a favor and get first dibs—you’ll be glad you did.
It’s tempting to keep your IMs open just to see if your crush will message you first, but they’re simply a concentration killer. Be honest with yourself. If you know that you’re prone to distraction, turn chat off for a while. Borrow a friend’s computer that doesn’t have your chat program of choice. Some college computer labs block websites like AIM express, and have a time limit on how long you can occupy a computer, which will force you to work faster. Take advantage of these.
The paper’s conclusion will be the section that stands out in the reader’s mind, so don’t leave it for the last minute. Essentially it should re-state the introduction, elaborating a little more on some of its points. By the time you’re ready to write your conclusion, you’ll know a great deal more about the topic and will hopefully have more confidence in your thesis. It’s helpful to take a look back at this point—go over your opening paragraph and thesis statement to make sure they support the body of the paper, and vice versa.
Never rely on Microsoft Word’s suggestions. If you wrote your paper at night, look it over in the morning and let a friend skim it. Get rid of all the redundant words and sentences. Professors won’t care that you’re 50 words short if you present and support your ideas without extra padding. Keep an eye out for contractions and slang. If a sentence goes on for more than two lines, it’s probably a run-on.
Look at a research project as an opportunity to voice your opinion without blatantly saying “I think.” But when you get an assignment, don’t immediately start writing. Instead, take a few days to think of a clear thesis—this is one sentence that focuses on a single main idea and argues a point. You’ve probably heard this a million times since the fifth grade, but it’s simply a lot easier to write about orca whales than to tackle the whole whale community. The narrower and more precise your thesis is, the less work you will have in the end.
If you’re on deadline and not sure if a particular phrase sounds grammatically correct, go to The New York Times’ web site and enter that phrase, surrounded by quotation marks, into the search box at the top of the page. For example, if the phrase “unseasonable weather” sounds weird to you, do a Times search. In this case, the search returns a number of recent articles that use the phrase “unseasonable weather.” Anything that appears in the last two years can be considered recent and acceptable for use in your paper. And if your professor has a problem with it, just show him a printout of the page!
There’s nothing more annoying than getting a B- on a great paper because of your bibliography’s incorrect format. We all miss the days when we only had to cite three books and the teacher gave us a handout about proper citation format. Now you have to use a plethora of sources, and the citation format is totally different for fiction sources, non-fiction sources, magazine articles, newspaper articles, academic journals, web sites, primary sources, secondary sources, and so on. If the length of that sentence annoyed you, then flipping through a thick style guidebook may not be for you. The most common styles are MLA, Chicago, and APA. Make sure you ask your professor which one to use.
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