essay

3 Ways to Go from “Good” to “Great” Papers

Ask any one of my friends.  When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all.  I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time.  I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.3 Ways to Go From "Good" to "Great" Papers

#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages.  This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper.  It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure.

#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper.   Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.

“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?”  The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE.  A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with.  So I change the question.  Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist.  Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.

Which naturally leads to step…

#3 unpack your ideas.  Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them.  How do you achieve this?  Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections.  Addressing counterarguements makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.

One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time.  The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him).  Use with caution!

Good luck, I hope this helps!  Questions are welcome in the comments section.

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Biology: Concepts and Connections

Never Pull an All-Nighter Again (unless you want to)

The All-Nighter:  a panic and caffeine-fueled attempt to cobble together an acceptable academic document such as an essay, lab report, or problem set.  Usually directly followed by The Mad Dash to wherever said document is due.

If you are entering freshman year or are a chronic procrastinator, this post is for you.  You cannot write a quality paper in one night.  It’s just not going to happen. If you were here in person I would grab your face and squeeze your cheeks together like that aunt you avoid at family gatherings, look deeply into your wonderfully naive eyes and tell you not to sell yourself short like that.  OK?  They sound romantic and so…college, I hear you.  But it’s like trying to lose ten pounds in a day.  You’re not going to reach your goal and you’ll feel like crap the next day.  Shaky anxiety from too much caffeine and falling behind on everything else in life does not have to be part of your college experience, nor do you have to spend all your time in the library.  Here’s how:

If you have time to get schoolwork done during the day, use it.  Nighttime is full of distractions.  All your friends are out of class, meal times run long, better TV shows are on.  You get the point, the list is endless.

When it comes to writing a paper, give yourself ten hours for a 3-5 pager, double that for a 10-pager, and so on.  If you use a calendar like Google or Ical (which I highly recommend), use those time guidelines as a rule of thumb and give yourself a day as a cushion.  Any more than that is unrealistic if you’re a procrastinator.

One thing I try to avoid is scheduling huge blocks of time devoted to writing.  It sets you up for dread and procrastination.  Everyone operates differently, though.  Pay attention to how you are most productive and use that to your advantage on your next big project.  Also key is working out the finer points of your paper while doing mundane tasks.  Whether that’s making your drive/walk to class every morning, or cleaning your Superhero figurine collection (I’m not judging, I swear).  Keeping your paper on the backburner of your brain will keep you from pulling an all-nighter.

One last thing, and I realize this is oddly specific and personal but it took me a while to figure out and might help you, too.  I find that sometimes a cup of calming tea is better than coffee or energy drinks to write.  It gets you out of “HOLY SHIT I HAVE TO GET SOMETHING ON PAPER OR I’M GOING TO FAIL” mode to an “okay, let’s take this one step at a time” mindset.

Still having problems writing that “A” paper?  Coming soon…. How To Write a Paper So Wickedly Fantastic Your Professor Will Try to Pass it Off As His Own Kids’.  The length of that title was completely necessary, thanks for asking.

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Anatomy and Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function