Writing Exceptional Papers

What does it take to write a really terrific paper? Like anything else, good writing takes time and thoughtful effort. Whether or not you like to write, whether you consider yourself a skilled writer or a poor writer, one thing is certain: the more you write, the more your writing will improve. With each paper you are assigned, consider the following tips and use the checklist as a tool for improving your writing.

Include Adequate Time for Each Phase of the Process

First, allow yourself enough time to think about your topic and make some notes. Your ideas don’t have to be fully formed to begin writing (in fact, they probably shouldn’t be), but you should work on clarifying and focusing your initial ideas as you write. If you don’t take enough time, you will end up with less developed, less polished ideas.

Allow yourself the time and the freedom to write a rough draft—and it can be really rough! This is not the point at which you should be concerned about grammar or spelling. Let yourself be creative and make connections you don’t fully understand—yet. Later you will want to make sure your ideas are clearly expressed, logical, and connected.

Plan to revise through several drafts. Even though you may have some great thoughts right away, or may feel pressured by the deadline, you will produce better ideas and stronger writing if you revise your work more than once or twice. Try to allow at least a day between revisions.

Later, as you revise your first drafts, make time to look up words, to say something just the way you mean it. Keep a dictionary and style manual next to you as you write. Learn to enjoy the challenge of finding the right word, the best way to express your idea. One site that offers both a dictionary and a thesaurus is Merriam-Webster Online (www.m-w.com).

Take time to make final edits and proofread your work. Your thoughts deserve to be presented as clearly as possible; errors detract from even the best ideas. If you can, have someone else proofread your writing. If you want other suggestions from a reader, ask for very specific comments. For example, rather than asking, “Do you think this paper is okay?” ask a specific question such as, “Do you think the third paragraph supports my thesis statement?” or “Does this sentence seem to fit with the others in this paragraph?”

Evaluate Your Paper with a Writing Checklist

Use the checklist below after you have completed a couple of drafts, and when you think you are finished. You could simply check each item as you think about it. Or try rating yourself, 1-3, in each of the areas. Then allow yourself another revision. Answer thoughtfully, keep track of how you rated yourself, and watch your writing improve as you continue to practice.

  • Have you followed assignment directions for both topic and format?
  • Does your paper have a controlling idea or thesis, clearly stated in the introduction?
  • Are your paragraphs unified, with a clear topic?
  • Is each paragraph fully developed? Do your paragraphs contain strong, specific details or examples?
  • Are the paragraphs organized logically, with smooth transitions?
  • Does the conclusion synthesize and sum up the ideas in your paper?
  • Are your sentences complete and clear?
  • If this is your last draft, have you corrected all errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar?
  • Overall, is the writing clear and effective? Is the significance of your topic clearly communicated? Is the paper insightful and interesting?

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