Writing an essay in college isn’t that different from writing one in high school. Despite what you might have heard, most college professors (especially those teaching freshman courses) aren’t out to make your new collegiate experience an unhappy one. With student retention becoming more and more of an issue for educational institutions across the country, administrators and teachers alike are grasping at ways to encourage learning outcomes and sustain positive experiences for their students so that they stay and earn their degrees. With that said, it’s still important that you recognize that the work you do over the next four years will lay the groundwork for your eventual career. Thus, it’s important to start off on the right foot. Here are four things you should know before you hand in your first college paper:
Clarity Beats Novelty
The chances are fairly high that you aren’t going to have an original thought going in to your first college paper. You’re not likely to be an expert on 20th century feminist lit or know everything there is to know about the history of business marketing and, thus, be able to make some original, mind-blowing claim. Better, instead, that you establish a viable thesis and support it clearly. Leave the grandiose ideas for higher-level courses.
Spelling, punctuation, grammar, style — each aspect of your essay is an important indicator of, not only your skill level, but of your work ethic. Make sure that you properly spell and punctuate your work, use the correct grammar and smoothly progress from one thought and paragraph to another. Misspelled words, sloppy syntax and abrupt transitions single you either can’t recognize mistakes or didn’t even look for them. Either way, your professor won’t be impressed. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And then have a friend proofread for you.
Citations Matter…a LOT
With any research project, your conclusions are the most important part of the process, with the type of conclusions drawn based on the type of research used. For instance, in market research, the choice between secondary vs. primary research is profound, impacting a company’s bottom line according to how and when, as well as by and for whom, its data is collected and used. Academic research is the same; you must know the difference between conclusions drawn from your own research and those drawn from the research of others. Otherwise, you risk plagiarizing someone –– even yourself! Identify, use and cite your sources appropriately to avoid having your entire paper dismissed for shoddy (not to mention unethical) technique.
You Can’t Kid a Kidder
Most college professors may not have it in for you, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to play dumb just so you can get an “A.” Resist the urge to adjust your paper’s margins or enlarge its spacing and fonts in an effort to meet a required page count. They’ve seen all the tricks and won’t fall for yours. Stick to a logical and concise approach that is free from grammatical and/or technical errors. Just like your high school teachers, your college ones want to know that you can construct a cogent, well-written argument when asked!