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Advice on Writing a Paper for College Students


You have a paper to write. It doesnít matter how many pages it is or what the topic is, the basics are always the same: 

  • Understand the assignment. This might seem obvious but instructors routinely receive carefully researched, well written papers that are off topic. Take the time to carefully read over the requirements and if you have any questions or doubts consult with your instructor after class or by e-mail for clarification. Read our guide to directives and terms to insure that you answer the question in the format required.
  • Plan out your time line. Make sure you make the time to do a quality job.
  • Choose a topic wisely. If you have some latitude choose something that interests you. Otherwise, you may have trouble sticking to the task. Also, keep your topic broad enough to find enough resources to cover the topic of your paper, but narrow enough that you can develop and successfully support your thesis. Donít be afraid to consult with your fellow students for ideas.
  • Write a Quality Thesis Statement. All research papers must contain a thesis statement. These statements suggest a paper's main topic and imply the order in which the ideas appear. Keep in mind that your thesis may change after you've done a little research. This is OK, so long as your paper supports your final thesis statement.
  • Use Excellent Secondary Resources. Try not to rely heavily on one source. You need to consult varying opinions and information about the subject to provide a well-thought-out argument on the topic, especially if your paper is persuasive. Be prepared to address arguments from the opposing side. If you belong to an online subscription service like Questia search for essays on your topic, read them and cite them as sources.
  • Outline Your Paper. Organize your thoughts and the points you want to make in a logical sequence before you begin the essay.
  • Write a rough draft. Never think that your first effort is suitable. Wait a day or so and reread your paper critically. Show your draft to your roommates, friends, TAís and your instructor if possible. Take criticism humbly and make the changes that you deem fit. The finished result gets the grade. The rough draft ends up in the trash.
  • Reread for punctuation and spelling errors. Remember that spell check does not pick up misspellings that are actually other words!
  • If you're stuck for a topic or if your essay just plain isn't going well, the best resource for getting back on track is your instructor. You will be graded on the end product, not on how you got there so don't be shy about sharing your confusion. He or she is there to help. Don't approach your instructor at the last moment. That would be counter productive. Do be prepared to discuss your problems and the material calmly and logically. Just because you're frustrated doesn't mean that you have to act frustrated. Do bring your notes and rough draft to show your progress up to that time.
  • Professional looking papers are more likely to be treated positively than sloppily appearing ones. Use bright clean paper. Use an easy to read font like Times New Roman, not an internet font like Arial. Use bold text for subject headers. Number each page.
  • Plagiarizing is not just unethical. It's risky and ultimately unproductive. The consequences of being caught include failing the class and possible expulsion. It's just not worth it. Besides, you entered college to get an education. Doing the work is part of the educational process

Also see our guide to writing a thesis statement and to directives and terms used in writing and test taking.


Essential Writing Resource Materials




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