What Makes a Good Academic Paper?

September 2, 2015 0 1320


Students, especially first year college students, often have trouble adjusting their writing style to the arena of academia. A good essay or term paper in college is very different from what many students write during their high school careers. An academic paper is written with certain expectations, and there are a few rules students should follow that will help them score well.

First, always write clear, precise topic sentences. Students have a bad habit of rambling about several different topics in a single paragraph. Instead, they should write a clear topic sentence to lead the paragraph. Afterward, they can use that to guide what they will write about. Anytime a student is going off topic, they can look back at their topic sentence. If what they’re writing about wasn’t covered in the topic sentence, they will know to eliminate that part of their work. Paragraphs should always focus tightly on whatever the topic sentence mentions.

Second, students should always write for their audience. This is a college paper, not a text message or an e-mail to a friend. Unfortunately, students have a tendency to use slang or talk casually in their papers. The professor is not a student’s friend and shouldn’t be talked to as such. They need to be addressed using formal language appropriate for academic settings. Even using contractions such as “can’t” or “won’t” should be avoided.

Third, be specific. Students often disguise their lack of knowledge by trying to fill their essay with fluff. Professors pick up on students that use lots of repetition or vague references. For instance, instead of constantly rehashing that the Antebellum South was a bad place to live for imported slaves, a student should mention specifics about their living conditions and treatment. The more a student demonstrates specific knowledge that backs up their argument, the higher the chance that they’ll score well on their essay.

Of course, where a student is writing their essay affects whether they can use proper citations or not.  If a student is writing an in-class essay, they are often not expected to remember specific citations, but they should still follow the general rules of being specific, using academic language, and making each paragraph tightly adhere to a topic sentence. Following these basic steps can quickly help students raise their grades.


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