The first step in writing a successful paper in college requires an active engagement with your sources. Simply reading a primary source for content is no longer sufficient. The question should no longer be “What happened?” but rather “Why did that happen? What does that say about the character(s)/plot?” Make notes of your thoughts and ideas as you read.
Once the writer has finished an active reading of the primary source, it may be necessary to obtain secondary sources to back up the thesis. If your research yields books, remember that it is not necessary to read the entire book. You can either look for a chapter title that you believe will have information pertinent to your paper, or look at the index for terms that you will be discussing.
Peer-reviewed journals available online will be your most commonly used secondary resource. Use the online searches through the Knight-Capron Library, but remember that other search engines, such as Google Scholar, can yield results.
Prewriting is the step in which tools such as free writing, brainstorming, outlining, or clustering are used. In prewriting, no idea is too off topic or too strange. It is these sometimes dissociative ideas that can lead you to a paper topic that you never would have considered.
Though the common perception is that there is nothing that hasn’t been written about before, if you allow yourself to think outside the box, you can find a way of looking at an old topic through new eyes.
It is also during prewriting that the writer needs to make a decision about audience. Asking questions like: “Who is going to read my paper?”, “What is the purpose of this paper?”, and “Why are they going to read my paper?” will help you set your audience.
The simple answer to these questions is “My professor” and “Because they assigned it.” They are not the true answers. It could be that your paper needs to be geared towards elementary level students or participants in a seminar or peers at a conference. The language and tone for either of those audiences would be very different.
Drafting is the beginning of “writing” your paper. It is important to remember that in drafting you should already have a thesis idea to guide your writing. Without a thesis, your writing will be prone to drift, making it harder to frame after the fact.
In drafting, the writer should use materials created in the prewriting stage and any notes taken in discovery and investigation to frame and build body paragraphs.
Many writers will tackle their body paragraphs first instead of beginning with an introduction (especially if you are not sure of the exact direction of your paper). Beginning with body paragraphs will allow you to work through your ideas without feeling restricted by a specific thesis, but be prepared to delete paragraphs that don’t fit.
Afterwards, create an opening paragraph (with an appropriate revised thesis) that reflects the body of your essay.
There are two different scopes of revision: global and local.
Global revision involves focusing on higher order concerns. We frequently think of higher order concerns as involving audience, purpose, thesis claims, development (and support), and organization.
When looking your paper over with global revision in mind, ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my audience already know about this topic, and what do they need to know? Have I included information from sources that my audience values?
- Is the purpose of my paper clear? Does my thesis claim reflect the purpose, and does it fully capture my paper’s content?
- Have I offered enough supporting evidence in my supporting paragraphs? Have I effectively quoted, paraphrased, and/or summarized my sources? Have I provided appropriate in-text citations and entries in my works cited or reference page?
- Have I effectually discussed my evidence? Have I put my sources into context for the reader (perhaps by using signal phrases), and I have discussed the evidence I have used so that the reader understands its relevance/importance? Have I quoted sources but have failed to discuss the quotes?
- Have I organized my paper in a logical manner? Did I go from least important/shocking points to most important/shocking points?
Many also believe that global revision involves looking for issues like cohesion and the overall progression of your paper. If your paragraphs jump from point to point without a clear connection between the points, there is an issue with cohesion. If your paragraphs contain too many points, this is also an issue. Ideally, a paragraph contains one point that is thoroughly discussed and supported with credible evidence.
Lastly, If your paper has paragraphs that do not flow into each other, but change topic abruptly only to return to a previous thought later, your paper has poor cohesion.
A paper that includes smooth transitions is significantly easier to read and understand. It is preferable to keep all like thoughts together and to arrange your paragraphs in such a way that your argument builds, rather than laying everything out with equal weight.
Though the blueprint for your paper is in the thesis, the end result of your argument should not come early in the paper, but at the end. Allow the supporting paragraphs to build to your conclusions.
Local issues involve looking for clarity in sentences, ensuring coherence with your ideas. The greatest asset to avoiding and fixing local issues is to use varied sentence structure and to avoid using the same words repeatedly. Repeating the same sentence structure can make your paper feel mechanical and make an interesting topic feel boring.
Local revision also involves being mindful of lower order concerns, such as sentence structure, word choice, grammar, and spelling.
The final stage in writing a paper requires a review of what you have written. In this last read of your paper, you should look for any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors that have slipped through the cracks during the revising stage, or that were introduced in your revisions.
Reading your paper aloud, or asking a friend to read your paper to you is a good way to catch errors. Often if you read your own paper, especially out loud, you can catch errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Though this step seems minor within the process of writing, it is an easy way to prevent the loss of points over simple mistakes.
Formatting, Inner-text Citation, and Works Cited
The formatting required for your paper will change depending on the field of your topic. Generally, the sciences and business and economics use APA or CSE formatting. English, and other humanities will use MLA, and History uses Chicago. The appearance of inner-text citations, and Works cited page will all be affected by these different formats.
Consult your syllabus or ask your professor to learn what format you should use. Guides for APA, Chicago, and MLA are available online.