A Guide to Writing Better Papers

  • 1
woman writing college paper

Whatever your major, the unfortunate reality is you’ll need to become a good writer to succeed at university. Throughout your education, you’ll need to write numerous papers — often quickly, to meet due dates, keep up with other homework, and still have time for the things you enjoy. With the right strategy, you can produce work to a high standard without spending a huge number of hours on each assignment. Here are a few tips to consider.

1. Make Sure You’re Answering the Question

You’ll never receive a good grade if you write a paper that only partially answers the question being asked. Before you do anything else, figure out exactly what the question entails, such as by highlighting key words and making notes about how you’ll tackle the paper. If you have any doubts, ask for clarification by dropping your professor an email or paying them a visit during office hours. You can then approach your paper with the confidence that you’re on the right track.

2. Research Just As Much As Necessary

Set yourself a time limit for how long you’ll spend on the initial research phase. Spending too long means you’re likely going beyond what your professor expects from you. Just do enough research to be able to write the bare bones of the paper — once you’ve started writing, you can go back and do more research to fill in the gaps.

3. Create an Outline

Use your research to determine what information you’ll include in your paper. Write down key points to include in the introduction, determine how you’ll progress your argument, and specify how you’ll summarize everything in the conclusion.

4. Use a Template

Structure your paper according to the conventions of your discipline. Your professor may be able to give you an example paper that answers a different question or a guide that explains what sections to include and what kind of tone to use.

5. Write Your First Draft Without Stopping

It can be tempting to perfect each sentence as you write it, but this will slow you down considerably and prevent the writing from flowing. Try to avoid stopping as you write your first draft — you’ll have the chance to fine tune the paper when you’ve finished.

6. Reduce the Word Count

One thing to do during the editing stage is figure out what you can cut from your paper. Most students end up writing too much — this is far more common than writing too little, unless you’ve neglected some important points that are necessary to answer the question. It’s even better if you can avoid writing too much in the first place. Once you’ve made a point, move on instead of feeling like you need to elaborate further.

7. Automatically Generate Citations

Citation management tools are ideal for simplifying the referencing process. As well as storing all your references during the research phase, they can generate citations in the academic style your university uses. Check citations before you hand in your paper, though, because these tools do make occasional mistakes.

8. Ask for Feedback

Ask a friend to check your paper for typos, spelling mistakes, and areas where the meaning is unclear. Alternatively, just reading the paper aloud to someone can help you notice any mistakes. You may also like to ask advice from your tutor, staff at the writing centre, or even your professor (such as if the paper is for your capstone project).

It’s much easier to write great papers when you’re able to work on assignments undisturbed. A better alternative to heading to the library every time you need to do homework is to move out of your dorm and an apartment. For University of Alberta off-campus housing, you have 1Ten on Whyte. Our student rentals are fully furnished, including with a desk and chair in every bedroom. Plus, you can always use a study room if you want a change of scenery. Apply now to secure a lease.

Compare listings