There may not really be such a thing as the “perfect paper,” but if you can write one and get an “A,” that is pretty darn close. Most professors do not give “A’s,” unless a paper is truly superior, especially when compared to the others that have been submitted.
Most students, including you, know the process for writing paper assignments – choosing a topic, coming up with a thesis (the point you are making), doing the research, making an outline, writing the rough draft, getting all of the citations in, revising, and writing the final draft. All of these steps are absolutely necessary if your paper is to have sound structure and read well. The other really important part of producing an “A” paper is the ability to write well – to use proper sentence structure, grammar and punctuation, as well as style and vocabulary that is appropriate for your academic level.
Now, here are some things you may not have thought of that will improve the chances for an “A,” and chances are teacher or professor ever gave you these “specific” pointers.
- Talk to your professor about your topic. Chances are, you will have a content field from you can choose options for writing a paper. And chances are, your professor has given a range of pages, perhaps 8-10. Once you have decided on your topic, email your professor, or better, stop by during his/her office hours and get his/her thoughts on your chosen topic. If that topic is too broad or too narrow, s/he will tell you so and perhaps make suggestions for refining it further. You have accomplished two things here: 1) your professor is a bit flattered that you have come to seek advice, and 2) you have refined your topic to meet his/her length requirements. You have also saved yourself the grief that can come from choosing a topic that is too broad and having too much written on it, or, worse, choosing one that is too narrow and not being able to find enough resources to meet the minimum page length.
- Don’t choose your thesis until you have completed your research. You may already have one in mind, and that is fine, but once you have finished the research, one of two things may have happened: 1) you may find a thesis that works better for the topic and/or 2) you may have changed your perspective on your original thoughts and now have a much better thesis with which to work. Don’t forget, you get a thesis by asking very specific questions:
- Why is this topic even important?
- If there are differing opinions, which ones do I find most valid and with which one do I agree most
- Which theses are other authors using on the topic, and will one of them work as a thesis for me? Sometimes re-wording the thesis of a respected authority on a subject, as long as you agree with it, works really well.
- Organizing your research into sub-topics can be a laborious, because you have to match stuff from several authors on each sub-topic. The traditional method has always been to use note cards and to use a different notecard from each author for each sub-topic addressed (and to be certain that the information for in-text citations is on that card). You then compose your outline from the stacks of cards you have collated. Here are two other approaches that some students find more helpful:
- Once you have finished the research, sit back and think about the major points that most or all of the authors made. These then become your sub-topics. What you can then do is this: Put each sub-topic into a separate Word document, and then go through your notes, topic by topic and insert the information you intend to use with the citation information with it into each of the related Word documents. Print those out, and use those instead of an outline.
- If you have read one piece of research in which sub-topics have been extremely well organized and include all of the sub-topics you actually want to include, then by all means, model your sub-topics after those of that author. You do not have to “re-invent a wheel” that someone else has already invented! No professor will ever suggest that you do this, but it is a great option, as long as you do not plagiarize.
- Paper writing requires good command of the English language and the ability to translate information, concepts and thoughts into scholarly writing. If you have difficulty with this, you have several options:
- Go to your campus writing lab and get some help. This is a feasible solution if you have the time and if someone is available to really help you with paragraph and sentence structure, as well as grammar. You can write your rough draft and take it in for editing and polishing.
- Write your rough draft and find a friend who is a really good writer. S/he may have time to review and edit for you.
- Consider using a custom writing paper service that is able to provide all levels of help, from editing and proofreading your rough draft to actually producing an original, custom paper for you.
There is no huge mystique about writing a great paper. It takes commitment and hard work. Using a few of these tips, however, may “ease your pain” somewhat.