/10 Tips for Better Papers

10 Tips for Better Papers

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

You may have written well in high school, but college term papers demand a higher level of research and skill. Try these tips to improve your papers.

1. Plan ahead. Writing papers the night they’re due usually results in poor results.

2. Give ‘em what they want. Follow the professor’s directions for formatting, content, annotation and any other parameters. Do not offer a paper in tiny or weird font or light yellow on a gray background. Professors like when you follow the syllabus. Even very poor writers can follow this tip.

3. Read sample papers. Some professors offer samples of what they like to see. Read these analytically to see how you can follow these good examples. It’s not the topic so much but how it’s handled that matters. Does the professor like lots of statistics? Bullet points? Certain types of sources cited? Slow development or a more direct style?

4. Know the professor’s background. If the teacher holds a particular ideology that you plan to destroy in your paper, you had better present a convincing argument. It’s fine to disagree, but you absolutely must know what you’re talking about. Offer your opposing perspective respectfully.

5. Be a little extra. For example, if the professor wants a minimum of three sources, go for four or five sources.

6. But not too extra. Doubling the paper length or going overboard with sources can backfire. Some teachers will not be happy with excessive papers. Remember: they have to read a lot of them.

7. Set it aside. If you edit the paper immediately, your brain misses errors. Allow at least a few hours to pass before editing. Then read the paper aloud. Spell check and grammar check cannot catch everything.

8. Get a second opinion. Ask someone else to read it over. Even if it’s not a formal proofreader, another pair of eyes reading the paper can often find what you miss.

9. Avoid dead weight phrases and clichés. “In my opinion” provides one example. The reader knows it’s your opinion because you are the writer.

10. Use short sentences with direct wording. Using overly complex sentences and flowery language does not improve your writing. Also, don’t stuff papers with non-essential words to pump up your word count. Teachers recognize this tactic.

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