Thoughts from Tutors

Tips for Successful Writing

Nick Robertson
Master Tutor

College brings together people of many different talents and skills. Everyone is capable in different fields, but there is a certain expectation of skills. There are certain things that everyone needs to know to be successful in college, and one expectation that comes up time and time again is the ability to write an essay. Classes of all kinds demand rigorous essays. History classes ask for essays, English classes ask for analysis papers, even Chemistry classes have lab reports. Writing a long paper can be intimidating, but there are things you can do to make the process manageable.

1)     Outlines are your friend

Students roll their eyes all the time at the suggestion of making an outline, but the process is suggested frequently for a reason. An outline can help answer the question, “What am I supposed to write about?” Start with a sentence describing the answer you want to address the prompt and go from there. Remember to outline the paper into different, subject oriented, paragraphs, and lay out simple statements of what you want to write. When you get your thoughts on paper, the next step is simply filling in and elaborating those thoughts with some additional sentences. When you finish that, the paper is often done! It’s that easy.

2)     Don’t do it all at once

Your mind can fill up quickly with all of the different lines of thought that make up a paper. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to process all these avenues of thinking and not to rush. A paper is assigned with as much time as a professor gives you so that you can manage that time and put forth a proper effort, not so you can stress about the assignment until the last minute and then try and cram it all into the evening before. Do yourself a favor and do it in individual sittings. Walking away to get a snack, or even sleeping on it has been proven to help your overall effectiveness of thought.

3)     Editing is NOT optional

Go back through your paper, and look for things that don’t make sense. Spell check on the computer is helpful, but is not in any way fool proof. Think about how many times a day your computer messes up things that you told it to do. Do you really want your grade in the hands of that machine? Read through your assignment out loud. Even if grammar is not your favorite thing, you will probably be able to hear anywhere where the language doesn’t make sense. Also look for any words that are technically spelled correctly, but in the wrong place. The different types of Their, There, and They’re are common ones, but also look for typos like On instead of No. Also ask the question “why” or “so what?” frequently while reading your paper. Professors often take off for a lack of elaboration. If you can ask that question at any point in the paper and not physically point to the part of the paper that answers that question, then there is some more writing to do. Be explicit. I find it helps to imagine a grouchy person who doesn’t like you editing your paper. They are just looking for somewhere to take off points. Don’t give them that chance, and you should have a great finished piece in no time.

4)     Writing is a process!

Don’t be discouraged by your initial results with a paper. Like I said before, give your mind the time to get it straight. Look at the paper in sections and give yourself time to look at it again. When you find something wrong, don’t be discouraged. You found it! That’s one more thing that made your paper better. Work at it over and over, and don’t be afraid to ask someone else to look at the assignment as well. A fresh set of eyes can be extremely helpful.

Overall, writing can be a daunting task, but once you get the hang of the process and set out different steps, it is manageable, and is a marketable skill. You’d be surprised how many people outside of school have trouble formulating emails or writing a memo. If you are someone who has gotten the hang of that process, you can be a valuable asset to any team. This time in college is a great chance to practice that skill set. Keep to it, and you’re bound to see an improvement, and a reduction of stress. Happy writing!

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