College Conundrum: "You Mean I Gotta Write a Paper?"
by Meredith Pond
Every college student knows that writing papers isn't easy. Now that many colleges are offering after-hours classes, and with the growth of instruction via the Internet, people of all ages (many of whom haven't written academicaly for years) are faced with this dilemma. Not only are you worried about including all the information necessary to make a strong argument, but you're also expected to present it in a way that your professor will be impressed with.
Every professor is different, and each one has a different set of standards when it comes to papers. Your Anthropology professor will have different expectations than your English professor will, and your current Psychology instructor may have different expectations than the last one. However, there are a few general guidelines you can follow that will help you organize your paper so that it's clear and easy to read, presenting your argument in a way it can be understood.
First of all, you might think your professor would be impressed with long, flowy words and complicated sentences. This is not the case with most professors. They have a lot of papers to grade, and they don't want to spend an hour on yours. A longer sentence is OK, but be careful that you don't switch tenses in the middle, and that each sentence stays on task. The last part of your sentence should provide support to the first part, whether for clarification, addition, or even contradiction to prove a point. Break up your sentence with commas. Don't know where to put them? Read your paper aloud, taking breaks only when you hit a comma. If it sounds funny without a break, it needs a comma. You know where to take breaks because you wrote the paper, but your professor needs commas.
The problem many of us have with too few (or too many) commas is perhaps upstaged only by using too many big words, or words with unclear or convoluted meanings Your vocabulary is impressive, sure, but your professor is less likely to give you an A if he has to look up a word every 90 seconds. Say what you have to say, but say it simply and precisely, leaving no room for your reader to wonder what you're getting at.
Now, let's talk paragraphs. When writing a paper, you can't just go from one topic to another, jumping around. The paper should have a flow to it. The flow of the paper will be greatly impacted by the way you end and begin paragraphs. Make sure that the last point of your previous paragraph is somehow related to the beginning point of your next paragraph. This can be done simply by repeating a few words, or by eluding to a comparison between the ending and beginning points. For example, look at the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of this article. The last sentence of the 3rd paragraph alludes to the problems many people have with commas, and so does the first sentence of the 4th paragraph. Paying attention to paragraph transitions will make more of an impression on most instructors than big words ever will. You don't have to write a transition like that in every paragraph, as long as you make sure that each paragraph follows logically after the previous one, so your paper doesn't jump around.
Just as important as your paragraph structure (and perhaps more so) is your thesis. You've probably heard professors talk about theses until they're blue in the face and you're sick of hearing the word. Well, the reason they talk about theses so much is because they're important. If your thesis is weak, your entire paper will suffer from the get-go.
The get-go is exactly where you should present your thesis to the reader. Your thesis gives your readers a legitimate reason to read your paper. Right from the start, your professor wants to know what you're going to prove in your paper, and that's just what your thesis is supposed to do. This can be done in one sentence. The longer your thesis, the harder it will be to understand and explain clearly.
Start your paper with a very brief introduction of your topic, so people know right from the start what you're talking about. Then, lead to the thesis. The thesis is usually stated at the end of your opening paragraph, after the introduction. Some people state their thesis right at the beginning for dramatic emphasis, but if you do that, make sure you backtrack in the following sentences to introduce your topic.
The closing paragraph of your paper is just as important as the opening paragraph. It doesn't need to be long, and it shouldn't attempt to make any further arguments. All your closing paragraph needs to do is clearly and precisely state what you have just proven to the reader, giving them a sense of closure. A couple of sentences will most likely do the trick.
Now, here's a little-known trick you can use to make sure your paper is organized well and flows properly. Write down the opening and closing sentences of each of your paragraphs, then read what you've got. If it makes sense, flows in a logical order, and you feel you have a pretty good summary of what your paper is supposed to say, you have most likely done a pretty good job. Oh, and did I mention that writing the paper at 2am the day it's due probably isn't your most efficient route to a decent grade? You get the point.
Now that you're armed with a few important paper-writing pointers, sit down and get to work. Writing papers can be a difficult task, but once you know what you're doing, it can be extremely rewarding, both personally and academically.
Meredith Pond is editor and manager of DrNunley's http://CheapWriting.com. See her low-cost writing and editing services for students and business people. Reach Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-253-4536.
Meredith Pond is the is the manager of Dr Kevin Nunley's Cheapwriting.com. She has a BA in English, and has had writing and editing experience for DrNunley.com, InternetWriters.com, Cheapwriting.com, Wcities.com, and IdeaExchange.com.