When I was a professor, one of the things that frustrated me the most was the quality of papers that some students turned into me. After a while, I started to see some of the same mistakes being made repeatedly. Based on my experience with student paper problems, here are some tips on how to write better college papers.
- Read the directions, and make sure you understand the assignment completely! If you don’t, ask the professor for clarification.
- Obey the rules when it comes to page limits. If the teacher says 5-7 pages, turn in 5-7 pages. Do not turn in 4 pages and a short paragraph, as this annoys professors and does not count. And don’t monkey around with the margins or use a big font.
- Staple your paper, or otherwise attach it professionally and effectively. Papers with crinkled up corners send a message to the grader that you don’t care about your work.
- Avoid using comma splices. Comma splices are sentences that are attached together, but really should be two separate sentences. For example, “Violence in the media is a serious problem, parents need to monitor what their kids watch on TV.” This should be two separate sentences.
- Use commas correctly. This can be tricky, and there’s usually more than one “correct answer” about where to put the commas. However, it’s difficult to read a paper that has misplaced commas. General rule: commas are used to denote pauses.
- Simplify your sentences. Some students think that to sound “scholarly,” you have to write in a complicated way. Not so. The important thing is to make your paper as easy to read as possible.
- Outline your papers ahead of time. This makes such a difference and really doesn’t take that much time, and yet so few students do this. It doesn’t have to be a perfect outline, and you don’t have to stick to it completely, but taking the time to organize your papers is an important part of writing.
- Avoid rambling on with filler to take up page space. Professors can identify this immediately.
- Capitalize proper nouns correctly, and don’t capitalize nouns that aren’t proper. Proper nouns refer to specific people or things, i.e. Judaism, Mexico, Delta Airlines. Simple nouns refer to nonspecific people or things, i.e. religion, country, airline.
- Use ITS and IT’S correctly. “It’s” with an apostrophe is short for “it is,” as in, “It’s a beautiful day.” “Its” with no apostrophe denotes possession to something without a specific gender, as in, “The infrastructure has reached its breaking point.”
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Oh, and it goes without saying that you should spell check and proofread your papers. Turning in a first draft that you haven’t even proofread is very unprofessional.
Best of luck! Now go write some terrific papers.
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