As a Cal State Fullerton communications graduate student, a magna cum laude undergraduate and a blog writer at Mihaylo College, I am far from an expert, but I have learned a few things about writing successful term papers. Here are 10 tips from my personal experience.
Want to get an A on your term paper, but feel you are not a great writer? We all have strengths and weaknesses, but that does not mean you can’t write up academic papers that will impress your professor and serve as excellent portfolio pieces for your job search (or admission to graduate school or beyond).
Here are 10 tips I’ve learned from my classes.
Know the Basics of Report Structure
While assignments vary, most reports require an introductory thesis statement, a body that fleshes out your information or findings and a conclusion that summarizes your work and references. The thesis statement is particularly difficult for many students. For university-level work, your thesis should be at the end of your first or second paragraph. Your conclusion should refer back to your thesis, stressing its importance and demonstrating its relevance in light of the body you have provided.
Develop Your Vocabulary
University students don’t want their writing to read like grade school work. One of the best ways to sound scholarly is to expand your vocabulary. Check out the thesaurus feature on your word processor or Thesaurus.com to avoid repeating the same word and find alternatives to commonly-used words, while ensuring your paper doesn’t become too verbose.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk With Your Professor
Most professors are willing to meet with students during their office hours. While they can’t write your report for you, they can give you advice on where your draft stands in relation to what they want to see. This has probably been my biggest secret to getting A grades.
Improve Your Typing Speed
Typing skills and good writing are not synonymous, but there is a relationship. If you can type quickly and accurately, papers are easier to write. Plus, you will have a great skill for your career. A number of free typing tests are available online to help students perfect their ability. Typing at 75 wpm or faster is a good goal if you hope typing will be part of your career, with 40 wpm a good speed among the broader population.
Start Using AP Style
If you think writing will be a part of your career or if you just want to take your class assignments to the next level, consider using the latest edition of the AP Stylebook to give your writing a professional tone. Available at Titan Shops and Amazon, the stylebook is used by journalists around the world to ensure uniform grammar, punctuation, capitalization and terminology across the world’s leading publications. Interested in writing in Spanish? The stylebook is also available in Español.
While not appropriate for all assignments, many reports can benefit from charts, graphs or photos. They make reading easier and are likely to catch the eye of business professionals if your report is part of your portfolio. Just remember to cite your sources if you use someone else’s images. Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons are great places to look for free-use images.
Know the Difference Between Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Sources
Yahoo Answers is not a scholarly source, but did you know that The New York Times isn’t either? Depending on the class, a wide range of sources are appropriate for term papers and other assignments. Places to look include corporate websites, business journals, news media sources and scholarly journals. But for graduate students particularly, research projects often require references to scholarly sources, which are mostly found in journals containing peer-reviewed reports and studies written by research faculty at universities around the world. A wide range of scholarly sources are available at every CSUF student’s fingertips through the Pollak Library’s online databases.
Pay Attention to Your References
The three leading reference and citation styles are the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA) and Chicago Manual of Style formats. While some professors have a preference, many will let the student choose. Just remember to stay consistent throughout your report. Don’t forget to include the in-text citations for your chosen style. Purdue University offers an online guide on citing sources, an invaluable resource for college students of all majors.
Read and Re-Read Your Work
When writing a paper, you’re bound to make some spelling and style mistakes. Spell check is a great tool, but don’t rely on it to catch all the errors. Wait a few hours or even a few days before reviewing your work. You will be amazed at how many things you missed that you will want to revise. Letting someone, such as a classmate or roommate, proofread your work is also a great idea. Two pairs of eyes are much better than one!
Get Help from Mihaylo Tutors and the University Writing Center
You are never alone as a Cal State Fullerton student: The university offers a number of free tutoring options designed to help each student realize their full potential and graduate on schedule. Mihaylo students can use the Mihaylo Tutoring Center for individual or small-group assistance on selected accounting, business writing, economics, finance and information systems courses. The center is open during the semesters Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Brief appointments through Skype are available on Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, contact 657-278-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students of all majors can utilize the Writing Center on the ground floor of Pollak Library North for a review by a trained student tutor. Schedule your appointment online. Appointments are available Monday through Saturday.