Writing papers and essay exams

Best tips by Union students

How to Write a College Paper

Some people write directly to computer; others need to write to paper first.
Learn your own style.

I like to write all necessary papers and lab reports ahead of time
so that there is plenty of time to both revise and see my professors with
any questions. Also, I don't have to stay up all night the day before the
paper is due!   [Rebecca Butterfield]

Keep materials near you while you write.

Write in your book when you're preparing.

Make an outline to prepare for essay tests---advance preparation pays off.

No matter what the course, I like to start writing with an outline; it helps me to think about the topic and see the structure of the paper before I start. Note that, however helpful this may be, to just give the Professor an outline on an exam (expecting full credit for an essay) is not a good idea. So, I make sure to write a brief outline, giving myself enough time to fully express my ideas in paragraph form. Usually, if you make an attempt to answer the question in a logical way, the Professor will be responsive to that. [Cregg Brown]

Quality usually pays off over quantity.


I was a terrible writer in high school, and I didn't know why. I bought and read a short, easy book on English grammar, but my papers still looked like a coloring book when I got it back. The best thing I ever did to improve my writing was to proofread what I wrote.
[Ryan Lee]

Go the Writing Center

I use the Writing Center. I highly recommend it even for those who are very proficient at writing. Having a second opinion gives you an idea of what a reader understands from your writing, after which you can see if it was the same as the point you were trying to get across. The tutors there are excellent. They are more than willing to help organize your writing to make it more logical, and they are excellent in finding grammatical mistakes. One's writing can only improve by going to the Writing Center. The only thing that might get damaged is your pride, so go in with an open mind and hear what they have to say.   [Ryan Lee]

Advice from Writing Center Tutors

Write while listening to Tchaikovsky.

Write about something you feel strongly about, either like or dislike.

You have to read the book. It will make writing the paper so much easier.

Read the whole book.

Choose topics that suit the length of the paper. Don't take on too large an idea to write about in 2-3 pages.

Be as familiar with your source material as you can. You can't write about what you don't know.

Don't try to be eloquent first off. Get a lot of your ideas on paper so you can see then as an entirety outside of your self. Then read, revise.

Write down everything, no matter how stupid it sounds--especially if intros are a big problem for you. Go into and elaborate your favorite ideas first; then you can get into a groove.

After you've written a bit, go back, read it, and see if what you said was what you meant to say and/or how you meant to say it. Think to yourself, "What does this mean?" "Is it clear?"

Make a rough outline. It doesn't have to be complicated or follow any of those stupid outline rules. This will help you organize your paper and your thoughts.

Plan long term. Give yourself as many days as possible, and do a little each day. Perhaps on the first day, brainstorm. On the second day, brainstorm and outline. On the third day, write the intro and revise the outline. On the fourth day, revise the intro and write the first few paragraphs, etc. This way, you think about the topic for a longer time. This helps you develop ideas fully.

Read drafts out loud, either to yourself or have someone else read them. It helps pick up on things that a read through would miss.

Be concise. Don't dance around what you want to say, just say it. Most professors can see through BS.

Don't try to inflate your language to impress the professor. Complex ideas are important and need to be stated as clearly as possible. Know what the words you choose mean!!!  (Otherwise, you end up looking like an idiot.)

After completing the first draft of a paper, always proofread. Read out loud somewhere quiet. This helps you hear the mistakes you have made.

Don't be able to revise. After you have a draft, cut sections out, move things around until you feel that you can't improve it any more.

Try taking notes of ideas as you read the material; it makes it much easier to put together a paper. These notes often can be spliced together to make a rough outline.

Connect every paragraph to your thesis.

Before you write, think of several ideas (not necessarily in outline form) and list examples that support them.

Make a rough outline summarizing your major points and thesis topic that you PLAN to modify as you go along.

Organize your thoughts before you begin to write. Make a rough outline with a few main points and include some quotations to support those ideas. This doesn't have to be very thorough--just a place to start. You can omit some things and add more things as you go along and you begin to formulate new ideas.

As you go along, check things off from your outline when they are completed. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Make sure you write an outline--even 5 to 10 words per paragraph helps keep the paper focused. It is way to easy to get onto small tangents which break up the basic theme.

Give yourself adequate time to think about what you are going to write before you actually write it. Don't become frustrated when starting a particular assignment. When writing, a paper the introductory paragraph is often the hardest to develop. It usually takes more time than you think. Allow for this.

Write as though you are trying to convince someone who doesn't agree with you that you had a good purpose for writing. Envision that person asking you "But why?" every time you make a statement or express an opinion, and then answer the "But why?" with facts (quotations, etc.)

Incorporate class themes (from notes) with text assignments for support.

Make sure that you are addressing the question or issue presented in the paper topic...Teachers usually appreciate this.