Though there is some brief discussion in high school about writing in MLA format and writing an academic paper, the teachers are less strict about the details and exact specifications and worry more about the content. Well, that is one big difference between high school and college. In college, an academic paper needs to be an Academic Paper. I ordered books about and Googled the technical details of what is required and expected for an MLA format and how to do a work cited page. Aside from that, though, I had to learn as I went about how to manufacture the best paper possible. Here are the 10 most important tips I learned for writing a college paper!
1. Ask Questions
Before you even get started with writing a college paper, it is really important that you completely understand the prompt of the paper and what is expected of your work. If there is anything unclear about the instruction sheet – such as the prompt, the minimum and maximum page length, how many secondary (versus primary) sources are needed, etcetera – make sure to ask your instructor as soon as possible. There are a few different types of Academia Papers, such as “responses” that need to be a page or two with only a few paragraphs, “essays” that can usually be done five-paragraph essay style, and then “research papers” that are usually five to seven pages that require a lot of time and effort and preparation. So, even if you feel like you may know the answer or you are being redundant, make sure you are 100% sure what you are doing.
Microsoft Word is one of the oldest, most well-known, and useful tools for writing a college paper. A Word doc is universally accepted through many important websites. Many schools give students access to Microsoft Office 365, where you can log into Word with your student email and use it for free. From writing academic papers to personal essays for university applications, and resumes, Word is the easy-to-use standard. Opening a new file will bring you to a blank page that is already formatted to be the size of printer paper and with the accepted margins and such for MLA format. The only small changes you may have to make are changing it to Times New Roman, 12-point font, having the “justify” alignment, and the proper line spacing. Plus! With the newer edition of Word, there is now an AutoSave feature.
Another amazing feature of Word is the automated Editor for proofreading. On the bottom bar, you can see your page number on the far left, then your word count, and then there is a little icon of an open book. If you click on the book icon, then the Editor will come up on the right of the screen. The Editor includes the standard spelling and grammar check, but also: clarity, conciseness, formality, and vocabulary! This is a tremendously helpful tool that will look at things you did not even realize were a problem or could be better. It is easy to use, too; just click on one of the corrections or refinement options, then either click on their suggestion or skip to the next one. (Though keep in mind that not all the suggestions it makes you need to do, sometimes the emotion or intent of what you say is more important than the technical application of speech.)
Grammarly is one of my favorite things and has been my best friend as an author when writing a college paper. Grammarly is available as a web-browser plug-in, a keyboard on your phone, as a desk-top add-on, and as a feature on Word. (The Word feature is brand new to me, I just added it when writing this article.) This way, you can cover all your bases for all writing you made need to do – from emails, to blogs, to Facebook posts… it seems like now anything and everything can be processed through Grammarly.
Though Word Editor has similar features, Grammarly goes a little above and beyond because it has a better understanding of common language and how people really speak. It has a personal dictionary, the ability to write in different languages, and the ability to pick a preference between writing for school, work, or other projects, (which helps the AI system be more accurate to the appropriate style).
College and university academic writing has a similar style to writing needed for the professional environment. Though it is not required, there is a certain formal etiquette that will significantly help your work come across as thoroughly and thoughtfully done when writing a college paper. One of the ways you can do this is by avoiding contractions. Not only will this add to your word count, but it also makes your work come across as more purposeful. Another formality technique is using a thesaurus for words you know are a little lame. This is something that can be done with Word, just highlight the phrase in question, right-click, and pick synonyms. A third way you can bring your paper to the next level is to have a variety in your word choice. Instead of using the same word or phrase over and over, try to rewrite it a different way.
6. Take “Yourself” Out
This is advice I had been given by both my mom and sister from their college days. Taking yourself out of your paper means to avoid I, you, and they statements, avoiding direct opinions and feelings. You have to understand how the tone of your paper and your audience dictates how you speak. In articles like these, I am talking to my audience like a friend and it is meant to be a fun conversation. In academic papers, however, the audience is your teacher or other like-minded peers, and it is meant to be professional and educated. Instead of saying I, you, or they, you can use phrases like “it can be said that…” instead of “they say” and “this is one of the strongest points because…” instead of “I really like this part”. It can be a little hard to get used to, but it really makes all the difference when your work is under critical review.
7. Read Aloud
There is the phrase “it sounds great on paper but” and that can be applied here. Though we hear our inner thoughts as we type out our papers, it can be often helpful to go back and read aloud what has been written. There is an odd disconnect that can happen from what you intended to say and realizing what actually came out. If you struggle with a phrase, sentence, or paragraph while reading aloud, then more likely your instructor will struggle with it, too. The flow of your work is just as important as the fact-checked details. Just as you would make your Instagram feed aesthetic pleasing, as you read through your paper you want to make sure there is an easy and organic flow. There is a reason they teach us the five-paragraph essay format as early as elementary school. Having a strong introduction, clear body paragraphs, and a well-rounded conclusion can make all the difference.
8. Outside Perspective
Though I am one of the most paranoid writers when it comes to my intellectual property, (even with academic papers), I have a select few people in my life that I trust to read my work. My mom, who is a paralegal and former English teacher, my sister, who graduated with an English degree and used to write descriptions for Everything But The House, and my best friend, who is also an author and at a similar level of education. Having this variety helps with both the logical and emotional sides of papers, with both looking at technical mistakes and overall content. Trust whoever you pick to read it and know that they are only trying to help.
9. Writing Center
A lot of colleges and universities have a writing center that is free to take advantage of, which can be really helpful when writing a college paper. Though this is along the same lines as having someone you trust read it, the tutor is trained to look at your paper from a strictly academic perspective. They are there to help any and all students make sure they are following the instructor’s direction, that they have a clear response to the prompt, and they follow any other guideline that might be needed. If writing is something you struggle with, the writing center tutor is there to help you develop new skills and master college-level techniques. They are there for all levels of students for all types of writing. Even with COVID-19 and online school, you can set up a video call with the tutor and go point-by-point through your essay to make sure everything is clear and concise.
10. Over Do It
Always stay within the page minimum and maximum listed on the instruction sheet. With that said, A+ papers need to exceed expectations and two of the ways to do this is to over-explain and be redundant. Though helping your word count and page length is a huge bonus, over-explaining in body paragraphs is a clear way to show that you are knowledgeable of the subject and have prepared for this paper. Having details and supporting facts is a huge part of grading, so go all out. As for being redundant, what I mean by that is instead of using the phrase “it is” you can say “the novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray is”. This way there is absolutely no confusion on what the subject is. Because, you may know what you mean by “it”, but your reader may not.
Hopefully, these 10 tips will help you be as successful as I have been while writing my papers! Comment below with any other tips or tricks for writing a college paper!
Author | English Major | #RealLifeBelle | Academic Romance | "This was no accident, this was a therapeutic chain of events." | www.TheMousyGirl.com