Writing papers may well be the opportunity for you to learn more about
the subject you are studying than any other aspect of a
course. You not only learn more, you also think more deeply about a topic when you have to put words on paper. An outstanding paper will provide an outstanding grade.
Opinion is good, but in a college paper your opinions are only worthwhile
if they are backed up by facts and arguments.
You must collect information, and, since many topics will be new to you, it is worthwhile looking at the work and opinions of
more than one author. You should certainly look at your textbooks but also at other authors. Your professors will always be
willing to give suggestions.
As well as your textbook, you should learn to use the library as a source of information. The librarians will be very helpful in assisting you to locate books and articles in newspapers and academic journals regarding your topic.
It is no use to just read a book and then write. You must record what
you read so that you can review it before and during the
writing of the paper.
You can use 3"x5" index cards and note down one, or a series of connected
facts, on a card. You then use the cards to
organize the information in the way you want to use it in the paper. One problem is that you may get bogged down in detail.
Make sure that you note down on each card the source of your information or you lose track of what each card means.
You can try to summarize a chapter on letter or legal paper. You can
note down both facts and arguments at length, but
this system can be cumbersome if you take a lot of notes.
Thinking About the Topic
After you have read as much as you need, do not just start to write. Think about what you have read, mull over it, or discuss it with friends. The professor already knows about what you are writing and is looking to see how well you have understood a topic. It is no use at all to just present your reading notes stuck between an introduction and a conclusion.
Thinking about it is the most important stage of writing a paper.
Sketch out on paper several ways of presenting your topic and your thoughts.
You might think of doing this as a connected
argument, or as a series of related headings organised in a way that makes sense of what you read. Another useful approach is
to state, prove and defend a thesis.
You must always write out a plan. It will help you to be clearer both
in papers and in tests. It is in fact another way of thinking
about your topic.
Writing and Editing
It is a good writing technique to just write down your thoughts as they come into your head. Do not stop to edit or correct spelling and grammatical mistakes. Writing and editing are different skills. Even though you may think what you are writing is bad or plain stupid, once you have got it down on paper you can go back and look at what you have written. At that stage you can begin to put it into shape, correct spelling and grammar and improve your style. Most students think that what they are writing is bad at the time they write it: your aim is to find a way around this mental block.
Before you hand a paper in make sure it looks good. Eliminate spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure all your references are noted. Add a bibliography.