How well you do in college rests in large part on your communication skills, particularly your written communication. How do professors assess this ability? Well, it is often through the assignment of the dreaded essay, term paper, or research paper, although sometimes it comes in the form of worksheets or presentations. Much of your time in college will be spent writing these assignments.
Each writing assignment can be divided into three stages: preparing to write, writing the assignment, and the editing/rewriting process. This article is concerned with the second step, the actual writing of the assignment.
Having made the appropriate preparation (writing your outline, gathering your materials, and reviewing your writing and grammar rules), you are now ready to begin writing. If you have written a good outline and organized your resources well, the writing process will be much easier. Here are some tips to putting together a well-organized, well-written paper.
- Follow Proper Writing Format. Each written paper or essay that you write should have the following structure: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. For research papers, you should also have a Works Cited, or References page. Included in the introduction you will want to address what you will be talking about in the paper. If you are required to have a thesis and are proving something in the paper, mention it. The body of your paper will include the majority of the information. Here you will be discussing the main points of your paper, proving your thesis (if applicable), and drawing conclusions. Finally, you need a concluding paragraph or two in your essay or paper. The conclusion should sum up the findings of your research or briefly review what you discussed in the paper. You might also choose to write something anecdotal here, or pose further questions for research that may have come up in your study.
- Use Proper Paragraph Construction. Construct your paragraphs with a topic sentence and supporting sentences. Your paragraphs should have some logical structure, just like the overall structure of your paper. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence and the following sentences should support that topic sentence, or provide further information about that topic sentence. For example:
During the President's State of the Union Address, he announced his goals and priorities for the coming year. His first goal was to continue with current foreign policy objectives to support emerging democracies. His second goal for his administration was... His final goal was to do such and such...
Notice in this example that I have my topic sentence, which is about the President's speech where he announced his goals. Then I go on to talk about what those goals were. Those are the supporting sentences for the paragraph. They give further information about my topic sentence by expanding on the idea and clarifying it for the reader.
- Use Proper Citation Style. This is particularly important if you're doing a research paper, but some essays may require citations and a reference page. If it is not given on the assignment, ask your professor which citation style to use. There are several citation styles used in college. The most commonly used styles are the Modern Language Association style (MLA style), American Psychological Association (APA) style. Other citation styles include the Chicago Manual of style, Harvard, Turabian and AP (Associated Press). They are quite detailed, but for the most part these details have more to do with graduate and professional manuscripts than for college research papers. For your purposes, these different style guides show different ways of citing references within the text and writing your Works Cited (or References) page.
If you follow these three tips, your writing will meet college-level standards. At the very minimum, they will help you to stay on track with your essay topic or thesis and keep you from wandering off the topic. See other articles in this forum for further tips on pitfalls to avoid in order to make your academic writing even better.