A while back, my colleague Professor Rogue noted, astutely, that you can’t really beat TurnitIn.com – it’s like death and taxes. Like death and taxes, term paper season has come upon us once again, leaving many a student to ask, “How can I beat TurnItIn? How can I write an awesome, A+ paper? How can I get an A on this paper?”
Since I taught college for so many years, I wanted to use this blog post to offer my best tips for paper writing. When I teach, if my students do these things, they generally get an A: this is basically how to get an A paper in Deleuzienne’s class.
- Sources. Half the battle is having good backup troops, right? You need good sources. Your professor probably has a tattoo on his ugly mug saying “NO WIKIPEDIA,” but beyond that, don’t use content farms like eHow, HowStuffWorks, etc. If the site pays anyone to write “content” – with one notable exception – it’s not a good source. Sometimes the only way to do it is to man up and delve into the library, that moldy, dusty building where the nerds hang out (and occasionally, where they film the porn). Sometimes you just need to log on. Those databases cost a fortune and that’s where about .001% of your tuition goes to, so make friends with them. EBSCOhost, JSTOR, PsychOnline, whatever. If it’s not published in a peer-review journal, don’t bother. The good news: You can often get the gist of an article from the “abstract,” a brief summary that appears at the beginning of the article. Sometimes that’s all you really need to read!
- Citations. Sometimes, the most important part of an assignment isn’t what you have to say or how you say it: it’s your adherence to whatever obscure style reminds your professor of his glory days in the Ivy League. Lots of professors might only care about how well you cite sources and whether you get the commas and periods and dashes and italics right in the works cited. However, do not despair. There are numerous options for creating perfect citations. One is to ask for some help. Another is to use an auto citation generator, like EasyBib.com. Finally, some word processors even have citation management tools.
- A strong thesis. In general, what you argue is less important than how you argue it, but to get an A paper, your professor should know exactly what you argue in the paper. Some students seem afraid to argue anything they think the professor will disagree with. While we all love to have our egos stroked this way – it is why we became professors – it doesn’t really matter.
- Good structure. This sounds like a no-brainer, but the students who get A’s in my classes don’t reinvent the wheel. Intro, main points, conclusion and out. No meandering, no digressions, no FDA-approved textual filler.
- Good use of sources. This might be the hardest. You need to use your troops strategically, right? So deploy them in a strategic way. Have front line sources, backup sources, mechanical robot with machine gun sources that take out your opponent. Massage them in with a rhetorical flourish that would make Derrida giggle. And all professors can spot gratuitous quotes from a mile away, so don’t do that.
- Good writing. This is easier said than done (or written, I suppose), and I know that it’s difficult for many people – it’s why you might want to get help. Often, universities will have a writing center where the nice employees will read over your paper and offer suggestions (though they seldom offer proofreading). I can’t speak for all of my colleagues, and I’m no grammar Nazi. If a paper is good overall, I can look the other way for some misused commas or a couple typos. But then again, if your writing has so many errors I can’t figure out what you mean, we have an issue, because I will always assume you mean the dumbest possible option.
- Nice presentation throughout. If I want to put on gloves and scrub with Purell before touching your paper, it doesn’t bode well for my general disposition as I read. Clean paper, clean printing, and professional formatting all go a long way.
- Stay in contact with your professor. Your professor rarely leaves the house and has no friends, so he or she anxiously awaits your emails. All right, maybe that’s a big of an exaggeration, but run some ideas by him or her. Take note of the comments. Do what he or she or he says, since they’re the one grading you.
Of course, a Benjamin discretely paper-clipped to the last page doesn’t hurt, either, but nobody’s tried that in any of my classes. Yet. And if you’re spending big on bribing the professor, why not hedge your bet and have a pro help you out?