Mastering the Art of the College Paper: Tips and Tricks - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)
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October 2, 2018

Mastering the Art of the College Paper: Tips and Tricks

No matter your major, success as an undergraduate relies on mastering the college paper.

Unfortunately, those five-paragraph essays you wrote in high school may have left you ill-prepared for the demands of college writing. No worries — it's not too late to master this essential skill. These tips can help you ace you next paper:

Develop an Outline

Enter each writing session with a clear plan. An outline will be your best friend during this process. Feel free to use an online template or develop your own with subheads and bullet points. Refer back to your outline regularly to check your progress and minimize redundancy.

Stick with a Third-Person Perspective

Your writing should look and sound as professional as possible — and nothing sounds less professional than the constant use of “I think” or “I believe.” There are exceptions, of course. Your professor may explicitly ask for you to infuse your perspective into your paper. When in doubt, however, it's best to approach college papers from a third-person perspective.

Use — But Don't Rely On — Writing Apps and Extensions

As a modern college student, you enjoy access to a number of tools that previous generations lacked. A variety of apps and extensions can aid in the writing and editing process. Grammarly is an absolute essential; it helps you catch not only spelling errors, but also issues with punctuation and other common writing mistakes. The Ginger extension can also assist with spelling and grammar. Other popular options include MindMeister, WordQ, Mercury Reader and SpeakIt. While these apps and extensions can prove incredibly helpful, they alone will not create a stellar paper. You'll still need to edit your paper several times.

Take Extra Steps to Avoid Plagiarism

Many college students do not take the prospect of plagiarism seriously enough — until it's too late.

Consequences for plagiarism can vary significantly based on the college, the professor, and the extent of the problem. But few students get away with it for long.

The trap of plagiarism is easiest to fall into when you procrastinate. The earlier you brainstorm ideas and gather sources to cite properly, the better. Plagiarism might also arise as you navigate the fine line between common knowledge and citable information. In most cases, however, information specific enough to support your paper's thesis is not common knowledge. When in doubt, cite any sources used to develop or support your paper's core ideas.

Remember the Purpose of Your Paper

No matter how long your paper, the primary focus should always be evident. With long papers, in particular, it's easy to get lost in the fray. A meandering paper is not an effective paper. This is why your outline is so critical; it helps you stay on track.

Once you've completed your paper, make liberal use of the delete button. You may be forced to cut out whole paragraphs or sections. Don't despair; this is exactly what you should expect from the editing process.

 Take Advantage of Your College's Writing Center

Most colleges provide ample resources to help students who struggle with writing papers. At Geneva, for example, The Writing Center provides easy access to tutors. A visit to The Writing Center could involve brainstorming, developing outlines, formatting or final editing before submission. No matter how much progress you've made or what topic you need to cover, you can benefit from the insight of writing tutors.

Your college writing center is just one of several resources you can turn to for assistance. Your professor may be willing to discuss ideas or direct you towards valuable resources. Your classmates can also provide feedback; consider developing a paper editing exchange in which you and a partner agree to proofread each other's work.

College papers aren't as terrifying as you think. As with anything in college (and in life), practice makes perfect. Develop a compelling idea, support it with cited research and don't be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck. Your hard work will ultimately pay off, both in college and your eventual career.

If you’d like to learn more about professions that enable you to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully in your life’s work or want to learn more about a biblically based, Christ-centered education at Geneva, we’d love to chat with you. For more information on how Geneva College can help you pursue your education goals, please phone us at 855-979-5563 or email