Imagine you are in your first college class ever. You get your first assignment. It’s a standard five- page paper with analysis and sources. You feel proud of yourself when you turn it in, but then you get it back and see your grade: 80%? You thought you did better than that. What happened? Before we come to college, we’re always told how hard it is and how much work we will have. But what we’re never told is how to get through tough times, and how to actually do well and learn as much as we can.
I had a lot of trouble learning how to write a college level paper, and you will write lots and lots of them. Even as an English major, writing isn’t always easy. If I knew then what I know now, some stress and anxiety would have been avoided. If you feel like this might be you, here are some tips to get you started!
- Understand the Assignment: One of the biggest problems is not fully understanding what your professor is asking of you. Sometimes rubrics aren’t clear or not organized well, so it can be confusing. College forces you to be independent and this is a part of it. Make sure to carefully read and try to understand the assignment requirements; the topic, length, formatting, and any more specific guidelines. If you need extra help, never hesitate to ask your professor for help. If that doesn’t work for you, try out the Writing Center in the library.
- Outline and Organize: The beginning parts of a paper are the most crucial. If you do not have a fully developed idea, then your paper will likely seem disorganized. To avoid that, try creating a structured outline to organize your thoughts and the flow of your paper. It will make the process a lot smoother. Also, make sure to manage your time wisely and not start at the last minute. Procrastination was a big problem for me as a first-year, but I’m getting better. Create a realistic schedule for yourself that includes research, writing, editing, and proofreading. This can make it a lot easier to get work done on time.
- Citations and References: In high school, MLA format for citations is used. But when you get to college, one professor might ask you to use APA, another Chicago, and another MLA. Make sure to learn about these different citation styles and keep it consistent throughout each paper. Plagiarism is a very big deal and you don’t want to get in trouble for not attributing your information. Several websites are available to help you easily create citations in any style. Purdue Owl is great for learning about different citation styles, and Easy Bib is a super simple way to create citations!
- After Submission: One of the most gratifying achievements in college is mastering writing papers. Your first one won’t be your best, but that’s okay. Challenge yourself to get better. Be open to feedback. Read comments from professors and figure out what you can do to do better next time. Ask peers to proofread or critique your paper to get a second eye and different perspectives.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t do as well as you might think, but don’t dwell on it. You can accomplish so much by taking the right steps. Remember that writing is a skill that improves with practice, so keep working at it and you’ll be on your way to becoming a more effective and confident writer.