Your first semester of college has been a barrage of heavy reading, high-pressure exams, and challenging class discussions. So far, you’ve been holding your own, but your confidence begins to crumble when you get your first major writing assignment. You’ve never had to work so hard to write a paper this long and complicated. Gone are your days of reading Spark Notes and throwing together a paper an hour before it’s due.
If you’re staring at a blank Word document with no idea where to start, don’t despair. Fortunately, help is all around you. Here are four tips to help you ace your essays.
1. Follow the prompt.
There isn’t one right way to write a college-level paper; every essay will have different requirements. Before you write a bunch of material you can’t use, spend some time reading over the assignment guidelines. Look for keywords that reveal what approach you should take and what skills you need to demonstrate.
For example, if your professor asks you to “report your experiment’s results” or “summarize the article,” your writing needs to be concise and objective. If, on the other hand, the prompt asks you to “present an argument” or “formulate a thesis,” providing a brief overview of a topic isn’t enough; you need to take a position on a specific issue and provide evidence to prove your opinion is valid.
Words like “describe,” “explain,” “discuss,” or “analyze” indicate you need to go into detail. If your analysis would fit in a Tweet, it needs more development. One way to ensure you’re being thorough is to pretend your audience hasn’t read the novel or isn’t familiar with the topic, so you need to explain key concepts and provide examples. Don’t gloss over something just because your professor already knows about it.