I know many of you might not enjoy writing as much as I do, especially when you are forced to do it for a class. Which is why I have compiled this short list of things to focus on to help you get better grades on your papers and essays. Keep in mind, they aren’t miracle tips, you won’t go from a 2.4 to a 4.0 gpa in class just by using them on a few papers. Essay writing is a skill, and the only way to get better is by writing. No worries though, with a little practice and these five tips, I believe you can be on the right tracks towards A+ papers in no time. So, let’s get into it:
Tip 1: Have fun with it!
I can’t express this enough. When writing college essays, you need to be able to find some enjoyment in the paper you are writing. I understand that writing five pages about philanthropy can seem beyond boring, but a bored student will always make a boring paper. You need to be at least 10% interested in what you are writing to have any chance at getting a decent grade.
So how can you get interested in writing a paper? Well, first, you need to put a good effort into the exact topic and outline of your paper. Fortunately, the majority of college essays you get assigned aren’t that specific. You get told to write a paper on a general idea or principal but when it comes to the exact paper, you have a lot of freedom with what you write about. Use that freedom to create an idea that you are somewhat interested in. Aim to find things you like or dislike about given topics because they typically give you more ideas that you can branch out on and fill more pages with. If you can find a somewhat interesting idea and create a rough outline of what each paragraph will be, you will have a much higher chance of getting a better grade already.
Tip 2: Research intuitively
Research is a major component to writing college papers, but it is the most difficult and tedious. No one enjoys scrolling through endless academic journals and databases trying to find useful information amongst pages and pages of intellectual crap. Academic papers are so dry and packed with information that they should come with a warning saying, “headache inducing material”. Seriously, I enjoy writing and I still find academic papers to be quite unbearable. This is where a good outline is key. Outlines do not need to be very detailed; they can be as simple as a few words describing what you want to accomplish with each paragraph. For example, if I were writing a paper on seatbelt safety, I might layout each paragraph as such:
Intro/thesis: Seatbelts are an essential safety measure in cars because they anchor you to your seat, reduce risk of ejection, and increase survival rates in car accidents.
Body paragraph 1: research on the design of seatbelts and how they anchor and protect your body
Body paragraph 2: research on bodily ejection with and without seatbelts
Body paragraph 3: research on fatalities in non-seatbelt accidents vs seatbelt accidents
Body paragraph 4: counterargument, how can seatbelts be harmful
Conclusion: Tie in first three body paragraphs and why they are greater than your counterargument
This is literally what I do at the start of any college paper, I map out a simple layout like this once I have found an interesting enough idea. Nothing has to be concrete or final, you can change things along the way. It is just important to get a very rough outline down. Once you have that rough outline, your research will be so much easier. Using the example provided, you can now research only the specific points that support your outline. This step can save you so much time.
Tip 3: Counterarguments are important
As you can see in my rough outline example, I added a body paragraph for a counterargument. I think that counterarguments are the most overlooked part of a good paper. If done properly, a counterargument will show the reader that you have researched your topic extensively and know the con’s as well the pro’s.
A counterargument should be all of the research that proves your thesis wrong. Acknowledging these points can drastically improve your paper and help take up some much needed page space to. I often can get one or two large paragraphs from counterarguments alone. The biggest benefit is that a counterargument will give you more actual information to write about instead of having to ramble on or repeat yourself. Which is exactly what my next tip is about.
Tip 4: Never ramble or repeat
Imagine this, you are writing a paper and you wrote each paragraph you planned out. You think you are finished, but with everything formatted correctly and double-spaced, you are still half a page away from the requirements. So, what do you do? You go back to each paragraph and write a bunch of nonsense like: “as we can see, seatbelts help to keep our body tight to the seat and centered with the airbag, allowing for ideal safety in the event of a crash”. Sound familiar? Yeah, well it’s also familiar to your professor’s and they really don’t enjoy it. If you want to avoid getting good grades, ramble on, it is probably the quickest way to drop a grade letter.
Typically, when you have run out of material to write about, it’s because you have either picked too narrow of topic to write about, or it’s because you haven’t expanded enough on the research. Go back and research more, maybe find another counterargument, but do not fluff up your paper with garbage. Honestly, I would turn in a paper that is one page too short before I’d decide to ramble.
Tip 5: Have a voice
College papers don’t need to be boring and professional. The main purpose of any college essay is to show the professor that you have a decent understanding of what they taught you. It’s that simple. Professors aren’t expecting you to sound like some genius with a PhD. Write with some personality, use humor and emotion in your paper. Write like you are talking to a friend. Use words you would use and describe things the way you would in person. Show that there is an actual human behind the words.
Adding a personal touch to a paper makes it so much more interesting to read, especially when a professor has already read thirty papers filled with rambling and nonsense which you now know to avoid. I often make little jokes in my papers to keep things lively and I have never had a professor complain about it or give me a lower grade because of it. The key is to know the balance, if you go too far with the personality side of the paper, you will take away from your research and actual information. You must feel it out and be honest with yourself. It’s not easy to learn but once you get it, it can be a great way to stand out to your professor and impress them.
There you have it, my five tips for a better college essay. Trust me, they work. I have had multiple college professors ask to use my papers for examples in future classes. My freshman year, I wrote a five-page paper on the flaws of modern communicating in two hours (including research) and received a grade of 117% from a professor with a doctorate in communications. I am not saying this to brag. I just happen to be naturally adept at writing college essays. If you were to put a quadratic equation in front of me and asked me to solve it, I’d be lost beyond measure. I’m just good at writing essays and I wanted to share what works for me. I’ll even back it up, if you are a college student, send me your next paper via the email on my website and if I see it in time, I will critique it and let you know what I’d do differently, free of charge.