Use this checklist for 10 tips to help make that paper perfect.
1. Know the Assignment
Rule #1 – make sure you are following the assignment. Make sure you understand the requirements and expectations. How long should the paper be? Do you need to include specific sources? Do you have free range of topic, or is there a specific prompt?
2. Start With A Good Argument
What are you writing about? What is this paper trying to prove or show? Don’t just type every thought in your head in pursuit of that 2000 word count. Your paper should present a thoughtful, well articulated argument that reaches a nuanced conclusion.
3. Then Back It Up – Support Your Argument
Having a strong thesis statement is fundamental for any good paper. How do you prove your point of view? With evidence! Source and source and cite some more. Primary sources should focus on academic sources (research journals, newspapers, books etc). Secondary sources can be more diverse (magazines, interviews etc.). Obviously the types of sources needed will depend on the paper and the assignment. Some Professors require a minimum number of sources. Make sure you’re always following your writing prompt.
4. Proofread & Proofread Again
TYPOS ARE DEATH. Poor spelling and grammar mistakes can majorly hurt your final grade. And never rely on or trust autocorrect or spelling checkers to pick up on everything.
“The principle point of this paper is to explore the affects of whether on gorilla warfare in Asian.”
All of the above is spelled correctly, and yet totally wrong. Don’t let this happen to you.
5. Say It In Your Own Words – Don’t Plagiarize
This should go without saying – but don’t be a copycat. Plagiarism is a violation of every school’s academic code. Use your own voice and words when you write. With the amount of resources online it can be tempting to just copy & paste. But do the work and never steal from other sources. Many schools have plagiarism checking software that will catch plagiarism. It is not worth it.
6. Avoid Words You Don’t Know
Expanding your vocabulary is laudable (see what I did there?) but if you don’t really understand the word or phrase don’t use it in your paper. Don’t feel the need to pepper your paper with your old SAT vocab words. If you use a word incorrectly, it discredits your argument – and professors can see right through it.
7. Don’t Use These Words
First, second, and third are transitions that should be used sparingly and interspersed within paragraphs, rather than to initiate every paragraph. Sure, it’s okay to say, “First, Melvin learned to chill through the healing powers of hot yoga.” Beyond that, enumerating all of your points is a little basic and overused.
Avoid meaningless filler words. Additionally, accurately, factually, and simultaneously are not useful in forming or proving an argument. Removing instances of verbosity will make your language sound cleaner and more sophisticated.
8. Write & Revise
Congrats, you finished a first draft. Now the hard work starts. And in some sparkle. Make sure you read through the paper aloud to yourself. This will help you catch major errors but also help you review your argument. PRO-TIP you can also copy & paste your paper into Google translate & have it read back to you. Hearing your paper read aloud can give you a new perspective, and will help with editing.
9. Get Feedback – Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help
Every get writer has a great editor. Whether that is someone to help proofread and check for mistakes, or just someone to help guide you to a better laid out argument. Use all the resources available to you. There’s no shame in getting academic help, and it’s always good to have someone look over your work before you turn it in.
10. In Conclusion
Make sure your paper leaves a good impression. The conclusion of your paper should be your mic drop. This is your chance to summarize your argument & convince your reader. So make it count.
Get writing help 24/7 with Chegg writing tutors. Writing tutors can help you start your outline, form a thesis statement and more. We have experts in everything from zoology, to history, to religion. Boost your grade and turn your paper in with confidence.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Chegg, the student hub, is transforming the way millions of students learn by connecting them to the people and tools needed to succeed in school. We work hard, and play hard. As the leading student-first connected learning platform, Chegg is making higher education more affordable, more accessible, and more successful for students. For more information, visit www.chegg.com/.
Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University