Four Tips to Write Better College Papers

By René Dario Herrera

Have you looked at a college writing assignment and felt worried about completing it on time? Or anxious about whether you would get a good grade? Or if the instructor would have positive feedback for you? If you’ve ever felt this way, then this is for you.

a photograph with a pastry in a paper bag, an open notebook with a brass pen, and a glass espresso cup half filled with coffee all set upon a wooden table

1. Have a Goal

Before you get started, it is important to know what you need to do. Take time to review the assignment and be clear about what needs to be included in your submission.

  • What is the instructor asking for? Refer back to the learning objectives for the lesson or module. Because assignments are intended to check what students learn, those learning objectives are your first clue about what needs to be included in your assignment.
  • What are the questions you need to answer? Assignments will usually have a list of questions that need to be answered. Sometimes the details are in the rubric. When you review the assignment requirements, look for what you need to include.

2. Organize your Ideas

After you’ve described your goal and thought about what needs to be included in your writing response, now is the time to organize your ideas. This could be as simple as making a list of everything that needs to be included in your response. Also consider your use of vocabulary terms, facts, figures, or visual elements.

  • What vocabulary should you use in your response? Each lesson or module will introduce you to new vocabulary terms and definitions. These words should be used correctly in your writing.
  • What examples, facts, or statistics are needed to be included in your report? When you review the lesson, before you begin the assignment, pay attention to interesting facts and figures. These may be useful for you to include in your writing submission. When you correctly use examples from the lesson, it shows the instructor that you understand the content.
  • Some assignments require you to include a visual element. Think about which visual to include in your submission.

3. Write a Draft

Write your first draft. At this stage, you should just write. Write without paying too much attention to spelling and grammar. Get the stuff out of your head and onto the page (or screen). Use the list you wrote to organize your ideas and expand on them. This is your chance to explore how you understand the content and what is interesting to you. Write about the examples you’ve seen in the lesson. Refer to your notes for inspiration. Write first. Edit later.

4. Edit your Draft

After finishing your draft, give yourself time, hopefully at least one day, to rest from the process of writing. This will give you a chance to edit the draft more effectively because you’ll be more likely to see how you can transform your draft into a finished piece. Rewrite. Cut. Adopt the mantra that less is more. Be direct with your sentences and get to the point. Your instructor needs to evaluate something. Make it easy for them to do that. Use plain language. Show the instructor you know what you’re talking about by using examples, but avoid using clichés. Use vocabulary correctly. If the assignment is a long one, use subheadings to break up the text. Use visual elements, if and when appropriate.