Just like speeding through a school zone is asking for a ticket, writing a college paper at the last minute is asking for a low score.
Maybe writing papers the night before they’re due worked for you in high school but flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t work at the collegiate level. It’s time to re-calibrate your writing methods.
Writing an A-worthy college paper is four-pronged; it includes preparation, writing, revising and proofreading.
The key is to space out the process at least a month before your paper is due. After all, you don’t train for marathons the day before the race.
That being said, from the moment you get the paper assignment, it should go without saying that you immediately do the following: write the due date in your planner and start brainstorming a thesis.
Generating a thesis is the most important part of the process. A thesis is your assertion on the topic, which you will support throughout the paper, and is written as a declarative sentence.
For example, if the paper topic is to analyze the current atmosphere of the U.S. political system, you may state the following thesis:
“Political parties have become more ideologically consistent than ever before which has instigated an uncooperative political environment to the detriment of society.”
Having written a thesis, the next task is to support it.
Only cite sources your professor deems credible and be sure they clarify because most professors do not count Internet sites credible enough, for example.
Furthermore, make sure you know how many sources the professor wants you to include in your paper because they may have a quota.
Instead of buying journals or taking notes from the ones available at your library, which can be expensive and cumbersome, search online databases like Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe which allows you to view full-text versions or abstracts of journals and articles from a wide range of topic areas. Also, check your school’s library Web site which may have additional resources for students.
In addition to accruing information from library books, journal articles and newspaper stories, pay attention in class because an off-hand comment from a professor could inspire you to pursue another avenue of research to include in your paper.
Cite your sources as you find them. That way, when you’re writing your paper, you won’t have to struggle figuring out where you found the quote you’re using because you’ll already have everything organized and sourced. A free site that’s incredibly useful is Son of Citation Machine.
Upon acquiring an adequate amount of information, it’s time to begin the writing process but first, it helps to organize your sources.
To begin, create an outline which builds off of your thesis. Your outline will serve as your map so the more detailed you are at this stage, the easier the paper will be to write later.
As you flesh out your outline with anecdotes and sources, keep in mind that your paper must flow. It isn’t necessary at this point to write the transitional sentences but have an idea of how the paragraphs of your paper will ultimately connect.
If you don’t know where you’re going or how anything relates, then neither will your professor. Again, be sure your outline is coherent and you have a relatively good idea of how you’re going to connect the dots and tie everything together.
With your outline complete, it’s time to develop your points into full-fledged paragraphs with topic sentences, multiple supporting sentences and a conclusion sentence.
To make your paper flow, connect you paragraphs by lacing them together. To do so, conclude a paragraph in a way that will lead into the topic sentence of the next paragraph. The easiest way to do this is use a word/phrase/idea from the concluding sentence and use it in the topic sentence of the next paragraph.
Don’t be intimidated by writer’s block because, after all, you’ve already done all the hard work. You’ve generated a thesis, you’ve found the sources to support it, you’ve cited them and you’ve written your outline. Now all you have to do is turn it into an A-worthy paper.
What a professor considers A-worthy varies from person to person so be sure to check a rubric if one is provided. If it said to include five sources, make sure you have five. If it said no less than eight pages, don’t write just six.
Be sure to use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation throughout the entire writing process because if you do so from the beginning, it will be less to revise later.
At this stage, your paper is written but it’s rough: some parts have yet to be fully developed, you found another source and have to incorporate it, you realize something you wrote doesn’t relate to the rest of the paper, etc.
This is the phase where you scrutinize your paper until you’re sure it’s as perfect as you can possibly make it.
Make sure everything is spelled correctly and your grammar and punctuation are accurate, that you’ve written exemplary transitions that allow your paper to flow, that your points are well developed, that you’ve done everything the professor said to do in their rubric and above all, make sure you’ve proved your thesis with an adequate number of credible sources.
Read your paper at least three times when you think you’re done and then ask a friend to read over it too. After you’ve set it aside for a few days, read over it again.
If your professor offers to read over papers, submit it to them for review prior to the due date. If your college offers a free writing center, take your paper and utilize the service.