Profs across the country plead for better written essays, and offer tips to help you get there
Writing good papers isn’t just a way to get better grades; it’s doing your part to solve an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Think of your poor professors and imagine what it’s like to have to consecutively read, mark and make intelligent comments about fifty papers on the same topic. Now imagine how much more painful it must be if most of the papers are poorly written.
Oh, the humanity!
We surveyed past victims of poor paper writing across the country and together, they responded with what amounts to an impassioned plea for mercy: they ask that you, the students, for the sake of your grades, learn to write readable, well-organized papers.
Or, in the words of professor Sorel Friedman of Université de Montréal: “Imagine that your paper is the very last one a professor is going to correct at the end of a very long evening. Try to write something original, or at the very least, clear and logical.”
Academic originality isn’t something we can help you with in the scope of this column, but with our professors’ help, we’ll take a crack at clarity and logicality.
First and foremost, if you’re going to take the time to write hundreds or thousands of words, you should make sure that you’re writing about something. Rambling on from an arbitrary starting point toward no destination in particular is no way to score good grades.
If you have been given a question to address, read it carefully several times and then be absolutely positive that you answer that question and not another. This isn’t politics; you don’t get full marks for answering the question you wish they’d asked instead of the one they asked.
If you’re not given a question, then you’ll have to come up with a thesis, which is a statement of something that you are going to argue to be true. Your subject matter should be relatively focused, so that it’s possible to cover it in depth in the scope of the paper you’re writing, but not so focused that you’ll run out of interesting things to say. If you’re unsure about the appropriateness of your thesis, this is a great time to talk to your prof or TA.
A well-defined thesis will make it much easier for you to organize your paper. You are arguing a point, so your paper should have a logical flow that takes the reader from the thesis statement, through a series of coherent, well-ordered arguments toward your destination, which is the conclusion that the thesis statement is true. This is the nuts and bolts of what an essay is and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you keep this in mind throughout the process.