how to write a college paper
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Some people like to write first, and annotate later. Personally, I like to get my quotes and annotations in right at the start of the writing process.
Starting in college, I developed my own outlining technique that was much more effective. As it turns out, my technique wasn’t so original after all. As Cal Newport explains, it’s called a flat outline. In Cal’s words, the flat outline works as follows:
Ever since I learned the traditional method of outlining papers in 8th grade, I felt the system was broken. I never created an outline with bullets and numbers and letters before writing the paper. I always just made one up afterwards because I was required to turn one in with the final paper.
And it is, sort of, but we’re teaching you how to do this better than average, remember?
Once you have that rubric and assignment sheet in hand, you’re ready to discern the things your prof will look for when grading the assignment. This means you can begin with the end in mind, crafting the paper around what you know the prof wants to see. To begin with the end in mind, you need to follow three simple steps:
Style guides may be mostly a thing of the past. You have probably used a spell checker or Googled where to put a comma, but you may never have opened a style guide. However, this book, The Elements of Style, has helpful advice and information about writing. If you are looking for guidance when it comes to editing your paper, picking up a copy of this book may be just what you need. The book consists of different sections, some with specific grammar and writing rules and definitions and others with general writing advice. One rule that is worth knowing, even if you don’t read The Elements of Style is Rule #17: “Omit needless words.” Keep that in mind as you edit your paper; it will help you craft a clear, strong, concise research paper that your teacher will enjoy reading (and even grading!).
And now what you have been waiting for — research! This step is pretty flexible; different people will research for a paper in different ways. However, it’s important to stay focused and move pretty quickly. After all, you still have to write your research paper.
And look at your outline. Start filling in the examples you’ll use in each paragraph.
Once you have an evidence list, it will be much easier to craft your body paragraphs, the meat of your paper where you lay out your argument. Now that you know your evidence, it’s time to hone your argument.