Practical Guidelines to Writing Successful College Essays and Term Papers
It almost goes without saying, but not quite, that you should thoroughly research your subject before you contemplate writing about it. Why? If you are going to write a college term paper or essay on a subject, you will be expected to have opinions and substantiate those opinions with hard facts to back up them up. Therefore, researching your subject means that you get straight in your head what your opinions are before you write.
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Research is the backbone of any writing and the sources that you use for your research are equally important. Primary sources include for example, newspaper cuttings, interviews and any source that quotes directly from for example historic witness accounts. These are often considered more valuable than secondary sources. Secondary sources, are as their name suggests, second-hand accounts of events. For example, a history book written by an author using primary sources to interpret an historical event.
Your use of varied sources of research will enable you to see the weaknesses and strengths of your argument. Your paper, in effect should be a response to a debate proposal - for example, 'this house believes: that dieting does not work'. You should in your research always be aware of what arguments the opposition are likely to put forward, so that you are responding to these arguments in your writing. For example, the response to the proposal could be, 'Weight Watchers is a successful organisation because its members lose weight.' The weakness in the argument might be, 'but, how many members successfully keep the pounds off?' just as an audience listening to a debate will have doubts about your argument, so too will the reader, therefore you should always lay out a response to these doubts and expose them as incorrect. You can do this by using quotations from expert sources for example. Using a variety of sources will ensure you present a balanced argument and that you obtain reliable information upon which to base your arguments.
Before you even begin to write your paper you should plan what points you want to make. Planning your paper is vital. It is a true saying that- 'if you fail to plan - you plan to fail'. Once you have an idea of the direction you wish to steer the ship, you can then look forward to enjoying the journey! Your plan should specify distinct points that you want to make in a logical sequence. These points should form the basic structure as paragraphs for your paper. Introducing each concept to the reader, developing it and destroying any possible doubts about your arguments will keep the reader interested and help them to see your point of view clearly.
Every piece of writing needs to lead the reader gently into the subject area by way of an introduction and college papers are no different. You would not expect a friend to tell you the punch line of a joke without build up otherwise the joke would fall flat. Equally, if you fail to lead the reader in by setting the scene for the rest of your discussion using an introduction, your college paper may well suffer the same fate and the reader may not want to continue reading. The introduction should aim to summarise and engage the reader.
An introduction is vital when writing a college paper for several reasons. Firstly, a competent introduction to a piece dispenses with the assumption that the reader is aware of the subject matter. It also gives them a flavour of what to expect in the development and helps the reader to attune his thoughts to your style of writing. Most important of all, a good introduction should summarise the piece and give some idea of what the conclusion will be. Think of the introduction as a synopsis of the entire work, however long that work maybe. A successful introduction will explain to the reader what the paper is about and prepare them for the development of that idea or argument.
Think of the development section -the middle- of a college paper, as a way of convincing the reader of your argument. Decide what points you want to make. This is where your research comes in. Your research will strengthen and inform your own views and opinions. Your job now is to apply the research to back up your arguments effectively.
The conclusion to your paper should remind the reader why you hold particular opinions and the reasons for them and give them a second chance to agree or disagree with you based on the arguments and facts that you present.
- Research the topic
- Be critical during your research - Read with a question in mind, always be critical of the secondary source material that you read. If it is not direct 'from the horses mouth', then question the writer's motives for holding their opinion, are they biased? For example, is a dieting magazine a proponent of diets, because that is their raison d'etre?
- Brainstorm - Brainstorming with friends helps to clarify your opinions, if you can argue a subject aloud, you are more likely to be able to argue it on paper.
- Plan your work in logical points
- Write the main points of your conclusion before you develop the paper, that way if you have a map of where you are trying to get to, you will be able to drive there more quickly.
- Use the points from your plan as paragraphs in your paper for each individual idea.
- Develop these points by explaining their rationale to the reader, justify them using your research and eliminate any opposing arguments by backing up yours with the facts not just opinions.
- If you are writing within time constraints of an examination and fail to complete the paper, you will get marks for planning your paper, because the examiner will be able to see that you understand the subject.
- Use an appropriate style for your audience - that means adjusting your language and tone, sentence length and vocabulary to suit the audience.
- Always introduce the topic- Summarise what you are going to tell them: -
- Do not make assumptions - Do not assume that the reader is familiar with the subject matter
- Be aware of your audience:-be aware of whom you are trying to convince and tailor your argument to that audience. This should be reflected in your language and tone and ultimately your style of writing.
- Do your research - you cannot expect to competently argue your point, if you do not have strong facts and opinion with which to back it up.
- Develop your argument- use the research sources and quotations you have gathered to develop and substantiate your arguments.
- Be aware of your own prejudices and make a conscious effort to be objective.
- Conclude the piece by summarising your original thesis, or idea.
- Check the writing for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes as this can let your writing down and irritate the reader.
- Read the paper thoroughly, aloud if possible and make amendments, do not be afraid to shorten the paper if this means that your paper becomes more succinct.
- Remember - the best writing speaks to the reader and wins the reader over almost without them realising it!