Tips for a Better Paper
Below are some tips to improve your writing that also discuss common
mistakes that many students make.
- Paragraphs should be approximately 3-5 sentences. They should not be
one sentence, nor should they be two pages.
- Include an introduction, a body and a conclusion. No matter how short
the paper, you should introduce the reader to your topic and tell them
what you are trying to demonstrate.
- Explain what you mean. Don't just make a statement and expect me to
believe it. You must provide support for your argument. Don't
say that the PAYGO system is causing the social security system to go
bankrupt. Tell me what PAYGO is and why it will cause the social
security trust fund to go bankrupt. This means that you must define
your terms. If you are talking about PAYGO, democracy, factions,
federalism, etc. tell me what you mean. One way of thinking about this
is what I call the "Uncle Harry" test. Imagine that you are
writing a paper for your Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry is a nice guy but
not all that interested in political science. You must write your
paper so that a non-expert such as Uncle Harry would understand. This
means that you must explain what you mean and define terms that Uncle Harry does not know.
- Read your paper out loud to help find awkward sentences and
paragraphs. Taking time between your original and final copies can also
help to avoid this problem.
- SPELL-CHECK!!! There is nothing more frustrating than reading a
paper with obvious spelling mistakes that could be eliminated by
clicking a button on your computer. Although you should spell-check using
your computer, proofread it again and avoid the infamous "first choice
- Learn when to use affect vs. effect, its vs. it's, two vs. to
vs. too, their vs. there vs. they're.
- Avoid using the first person too much.
- Invest in a good writing manual. You will find this invaluable
throughout your college career and beyond.