Three Tips for Better Grades on Your Papers in College
You've got the write stuff
Some people really have a way with words. When you read something they've written, you're blown away and find yourself wishing you could do the same, especially when it comes to that research paper you're about to turn into your professor.
While some people have a gift for writing, there's no reason that you—yes, you—can't write clear, concise pieces that convey your message with punch.
Here are three tips to help you.
- Think your paper through ahead of time. Think outlines are a waste of time or busy work your teacher assigns you just to be mean? Think again. Making an outline can help you to really think out what you're trying to say. Don't overthink it, though. Simply jot down the key points you want to make in your paper and the information you have that support each of those points. Before too long, you'll start to see and understand your arguments better. Plus, with a little bit of expansion, those key points and supporting statements can quickly become paragraphs and sections of your paper!
- Use the tools at your disposal. Grammar can be confusing at times, but you're probably better at it than you think. But you also have a lot of tools at your disposal. Use the grammar check on your word processing program and pay attention to the problems it highlights. Common errors are going to be confused words (effect/affect) and passive voice. Passive voice is just a backward way of stating something, when you make the object do the action rather than the subject of the phrase. So instead of "the ball was thrown by the boy," move your sentence around to "the boy threw the ball." It's cleaner, clear and more concise! In addition to the spell and grammar check on your word processing program, try out Grammarly or other similar tools available on the internet.
- Read your paper aloud. You might feel a little strange reading your own words out loud to yourself, but sometimes hearing what you've written helps you to recognize the grammar issues, typos or phrases that just sound stilted or strange. Take note of the places where you stumble or the sentences and paragraphs that seem muddled, convoluted or incredibly long. After you've read what you've written aloud, go back and tackle the issues.
And a few extra tips, just for fun!
- Ask someone who is not as familiar with the subject or the assignment to read over your paper. Sometimes a new set of eyes can see the mistakes you're overlooking.
- Paper feels choppy and disorganized? You may need to restructure or reorder your argument. Sometimes that's easier to do if you actually print out the paper and cut it apart so you can move the paragraphs around and figure out what works.
- Don't think you're a good writer? Don't count yourself out. You don't have to use fancy phrases or big words to impress people. Keep your phrases and your writing simple and strive to simply express your points as clearly and concisely as possible. A clear argument with strong support is 100 times better than a lengthy paper with long convoluted sentences that don't actually say very much.
- Fight every urge to plagiarize. Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas as your own. If you wholesale copy a quote from someone and drop it into your paper, give credit where credit is due. If you're basing your argument on something someone else has already said, note where you got the idea. If you find yourself writing and borrowing a lot of words and phrases from a source, pause, paraphrase or give credit.