English Composition 2
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Back to Writing Tips from Students
The Journey to a Polished Paper
by Ericka Sanchez
As a great philosopher and poet, Lao Tzu, once said, “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.” When faced with writing a paper, some people may need motivation. When approaching any paper, for any course, the student needs to understand that being organized is the key to writing a stress free paper. Make a difficult assignment easy by breaking it down into three manageable steps. The best way any student can approach writing a successful paper is to start small, develop thoroughly, and revise frequently.
The first step to any of my papers is starting small. Usually, I begin by writing my introduction hook with a quote. Find something interesting to really grab the reader’s attention and make them wonder about the topic as they continue to read. Also, and at the same time, find another quote that ties in to the first and put that as the last sentence in the paper. It may seem odd to only have written the first sentence and the last sentence before anything else, but for me, this helps with cohesion. This really helps the paper flow and come full circle. Next, write the thesis statement and all topic sentences to each body paragraph to use as a guide. The thesis statement should be a single sentence at the end of the introduction that lists all main ideas that are going to be presented in your topic sentences. Each topic sentence should be the first sentence in each body paragraph. The topic sentence explains the focus to the reader and shows what is going to be proven and supported throughout the paragraph. Lastly, transitional sentences are the next logical thing to do. When a writer places a sentence at the end of each body paragraph that summarizes what has been proven and foreshadows the next paragraph, the reader is able to move gently from one paragraph to the next. This skeleton-like framework is crucial to have in place and will help the writer visually see the places where more information is needed. Now that the beginning and end to each paragraph is in place, the writer can develop each paragraph to meet the expectations of the instructor.
The second step to all of my papers is develop thoroughly. I start back in the beginning of my paper and develop the middle with information and quotes that support my ideas. All paragraphs already have beginnings and ends, and now is the time to really paint the picture. For example, the writer can give descriptive details to really grab the hand of the writer and guide them down the desired path. Use as many tactile or visual words to make the reader see and feel the experience of reading the paper. I like to use notecards to write my quotes and page numbers on for quick reference. This helps by keeping my thoughts organized in small pieces, instead of looking at the quotes in the context of the entire work of literature. Make sure to integrate all quotes into sentences that show the writer’s own views and thoughts. Tell the reader why that quote is important. After all, there is a reason that quote was selected, so make it worthy of time and really explain it. After adding a few quotes, the word count will be closer to meeting instructor’s expectations, and now it is time to proofread for errors.
The final step is to revise frequently. A paper should be revised many times before it is turned in. Use the resources available and go to the Writing Center on campus. It is nice to have papers looked over by a peer or teacher. Many times they will catch errors that a writer never even thought of. Read the paper out loud and revise sentences that are stumbled over. With this paper, I am not using formal voice, but make sure to use formal voice when writing any other paper. Do not use words like I, me, you, etc. Also, make sure not to use contractions. Write all words out. For example, I’m would be written as I am and can’t should be written as cannot. Check for comma errors and have others proofread and pay attention to commas if that is a weakness. Look at all sentences and see if they vary in length and type. Many long sentences or many short sentences can make the reader bored. Instead, use variety to surprise them. This will show the reader academic language and professional writing. Semicolons are great in papers when used properly; however, when they are used poorly, the writer risks looking foolish instead of intelligent. Revise the paper again and look for style problems such as using one word too often and use a synonym instead. If proper time is spent on revisions, the paper will look polished and professional when read by the professor and should have no problem earning a fantastic grade.
For me, a proper paper is built simply and in small steps. When breaking down a paper into three manageable steps it takes unneeded stress off the writer and allows creativity to flow. No matter the paper or the course I always remember to start small, develop thoroughly, and revise frequently. After all, like Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”