It's that time of year again. The semester is quickly coming to a close, finals are almost upon us, and all the papers we've spent the past four months procrastinating are finally due. If you're like most college students, this is an overwhelming realization.
Having almost completed four years of college, and working at my school's Writing Center for two of them, I've learned a thing or two about college writing. It's no secret that I love writing--from writing articles to fiction to academic papers and a thesis--but not everyone shares my passion for it.
For most people, writing a paper is a hassle. It's not easy to effectively argue a point, and most people don't learn the right skills for ~college writing~ in high school.
That's why I've compiled this list of 12 tips and tricks to write a successful term paper in college!
1. Start with a question, not a conclusion.
Sometimes when we start our research, we realize that the things we thought were true, really weren't. There are steps you have to take between your question and conclusion before you can come to a solid answer, and skipping those steps only makes more work for yourself in the long run!
2. Look at the reference list.
When you find an article or book that screams, "I have all the answers you need!" the best thing to do is to look at their references list or bibliography. More than likely, you'll find even more information that will make your argument stronger.
3. Always make an outline first.
I do this with every paper I write. An outline helps organize your thoughts, and makes it super easy to plug your information in! The organization is truly half the battle.
4. Don't start with your introduction.
Students look at me like I've got ten heads when I say this to them, but hear me out. Your introduction and conclusion should reflect each other--the intro poses the question and hints at your answer, while the conclusion restates the question and discusses the answer. You can't really talk about your answer in the introduction without knowing the answer.
But, if you're like me and tons of other students that just feel better looking at that intro paragraph, leave yourself time to revise it. Your first thought is almost never your best thought. Write a draft of the intro, and then revise it when the rest of the paper is finished.
5. TIQA is one of the stalest writing formats ever.
I don't even know if it's called TIQA anymore, but this was the method I learned in high school that many people still follow. The word is an acronym for "Title, Introduce quote, Quote, Analysis" and can be spruced up by its little, more annoying sibling, TIQATIQA.
Nobody wants to read a paper with such a stale, repetitive writing style. Quotes should almost never be the focal point of your paper--they're there to support your argument. The analysis and your argument are the most important pieces here; what ideas are you trying to convey? How does this quote support it?
6. Check your works cited against your in-text citations.
Every in-text citation should have a full citation in the references, and everything in the references should have an in-text citation. If there's a reference without an in-text citation, your professor might think you're plagiarizing!
7. Don't write with a word count in mind.
If you're anything like me, you absolutely obsess over the word count, checking every few sentences to see how far you've come and how much you have to finish. Stop that. Try writing until you've argued your point, and then check the word count. Still need more? Revise the paper and see where you can strengthen your argument!
8. Read the material.
You can't write a paper on something you know nothing about. Read the material, search their references, and give yourself enough time to think these concepts through.
9. Read your paper out loud.
Not only can reading out loud help us catch grammar mistakes and spelling errors, it also helps us craft a paper that is more enjoyable to read. Have you ever read a textbook out loud? It's awful. The writing is awful, and boring, and puts people to sleep.
Now, I'm not saying you should write like you talk--writing should be cleaner than speech. But you should make sure that your writing is clear and easy to understand--something that, if read out loud, wouldn't put your whole class to sleep.
10. Have someone else read your paper.
A second set of eyes is more helpful than you'd think! Get someone else's opinion on the piece--they can help catch grammar and spelling mistakes and let you know if your paper is readable and easy to follow.
11. Don't be discouraged if you have to revise.
Revision is an important step in the writing process. For years leading up to college, I would write a paper, hand it in, and get an A. My first thought, to my high school teachers, was enough. In college, that's not the case.
Revising gives us a chance to make sure our argument is strong, our facts line up and our writing is clear. Even the best writers have to revise their work a few times before it's ready to publish!
12. Understand that writing is a skill, not a God-given talent.
I consider myself to be a pretty good writer, but I didn't wake up with the ability to write well. Writing is a skill that we learn along the way--some learn writing habits that are more helpful than others. The best way to become a good writer is to practice and to read.
Write as much as you can, take notes, and practice formulating and explaining ideas. And, even more important than that, read what's already out there. Read books, journal articles, newspapers, anything you can get your hands on. The more you read, the more examples you've got to work off of, and the more effective your writing will be!