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February 09, 2016 - Posted to Writing
Level up to College Writing
You’re not in high school anymore. Accept it. The things your teachers forgave regarding your research and writing will no longer be forgiven. Your professors will not spend time coddling you about how to put together a worthy research paper, helping you along every step of the way, and giving you 2nd chances. They want a scholarly paper; they assume you know how to produce one; and they want it when they want it. So, if you have struggled with research papers in the past, now is the time to get smart about them. Here are some tips that will help you meet these new, more rigorous expectations.
Selecting a Topic
Topics for a college level paper have to be more complex. You can’t just decide to write a paper on the causes of the Vietnam War. You have to analyze the behaviors and ideologies of the people in charge of making the decision to intervene, including political, military, and corporate leaders. What was to be gained by these three groups by entering this conflict? What were their goals? And why was such a large segment of our population opposed to intervention? This is the stuff of which a college paper is made.
When you consider topics, consider those about which you can form an opinion or make some important points. These things are what will drive your thesis statement. And all college papers, unlike those you may have done in high school, will require a strong thesis statement which is then backed up by the research you conduct.
Here is a huge difference between producing high school papers and writing college level papers. At high school, you used what are called secondary sources – people who have written about the topic but who may not necessarily be considered “experts” in the field. Thus, you may have used an encyclopedia and books that provided good factual information but that did not provide scholarly analysis of that information.
Now, you must focus on primary resources. You need to identify the experts in the topic field, find what they have written, and read and study what they have to say about the facts, the data, and the other information. They analyze things and reach conclusions and opinions based upon those analyses. These are the sources that you will be using. They are considered scholarly and worthy of college research.
No matter what course has a research paper assignment attached to it, you will be judged on your writing ability. One college student put it very well. “It’s like you are in English class for every course you take.” And yes, it is. Accept it. Your writing skills are a part of your grade in every course you take. If you have challenges in the area of writing, you need to fix them with some tutoring help (usually available for free on most campuses) or find someone who can review and edit everything you write. Writing a college paper requires basic grammar and composition skills.
Particularly when controversial topics for college papers are assigned or chosen, remember that you are presenting an argument that is based upon factual information and data. You cannot just throw your opinions out there. Each point you make must be backed up with evidence. If you can’t find the evidence, don’t make the point. There is nothing worse than an opinion that has no substance behind it. It is not scholarly, and you will be penalized for it.
Some Tips You Won’t Be Given by Your Professors
As you work to produce the best research papers you can, you know that you have to go through the process – topic selection, development of a thesis, doing the research, organizing all of that research, crafting an outline, writing a rough draft, editing that rough draft, writing the final draft, and making sure that the required format style has been followed. Behind the scenes, however, you can do some things that will help you produce a better paper.
Get online and pull up some papers that have been written on the topic you have selected. While of course you will not plagiarize any part or all of these papers, you can pick up some valuable help, as follows:
- You can check to see if your topic is appropriate for the length requirements of your professor
- You can see how the topic has been organized into sub-topics. This will really help as you try to organize your own research into sub-topics for the sections of your paper.
- You may get some great leads on resources to use. If the papers you study are at the college level and are well done, you can check out the resources from that bibliography as ones that you can use too.
Writing college papers comes with challenges, of course. You need to do whatever is necessary to meet those challenges, however, because papers are a huge part of a course grade. Fine tune your skills, get help when you need it, and you will get far better grades.