Some folks think writing is a lost art. Maybe you’ve never lost it because you never found it in the first place, but you can still write a decent paper for your class!
There are some pretty easy keys to writing. The first, and most important one, is to read and understand the assignment. You’d be amazed how many people never actually read the directions! Examples: if the paper needs a header, create one; if the word limit is 1,000 words, keep it under that – and use the word count tool in your word processor to make sure you did.
When you start writing, remember that every paper has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The military used to sum it up this way, “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em.”
The introduction lets you describe what the paper is about and how it will achieve that goal; the body presents information related to your purpose; and the conclusion is where you connect the information presented and present your supported argument. Make sure that you have all three parts in any paper.
Next, realize that no one writes a perfect paper the first time, and no one is good at proofreading their own work. You need someone else to proofread your paper at least once before you turn it in.
The first version of any paper is called a draft. That means it is not the finished product! Write it; read it back (reading out loud helps, as you’ll often find awkward phrases or confusing sentences when you hear them); and correct it based on what you find. Then, give it to a friend, roommate, spouse or other handy person and ask them to read it and point out any problems. They’ll find things you missed. Make the corrections – and then you may be ready to turn the paper in. If you have doubt, proofread it again yourself – out loud.
The world’s best writers and authors all know that their work will be better after someone else proofreads and edits it. Learn from their example and have someone else go through that paper before you turn it in.
Finally, don’t ignore the help available online and in your computer. It’s amazing how many papers are turned in with basic errors like commas and apostrophes in the wrong places. Your word processing program probably has a spell check and grammar check. Figure out how to turn both of them on, and use them carefully.
Online help is always there. If you don’t know how to spell Tchaikovsky or Ahmadinejad, take 30 seconds to Google it. You’ll find that spellings, definitions and all the other help you need is available in seconds. If you need to write in MLA style or APA style, the Internet is chalk full of the information you need for that as well.
Colorado State University’s Writing@CSU will review papers for you too, but you need to plan ahead and open a free account.
To look up questions about style problems (like citations, punctuation, etc.) the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue is a fantastic, searchable reference available 24×7.
Most students just need practice and strategize to write well enough for good grades. Use the tools I’ve mentioned in this blog and you’ll be way ahead of most of the students in your classes.