scope

How To Go From A “Good” To A “Great” Paper

Ask any one of my buddies.  When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all.  I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time.  I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.

#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages.  This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper.  It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure. Instead, try to find more facts to back up your thesis statement or main points. Include graphs, charts, figures or anything else that will reinforce the message you are trying to get across.  Nobody can argue with the facts; words are wind.

#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper.   Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.

“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?”  The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE.  A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with.  So I change the question.  Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist.  Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.

Which naturally leads to step…

#3 unpack your ideas.  Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them.  How do you achieve this?  Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections.  Addressing counter arguments makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.

One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time.  The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him).  Use with caution!

Good luck, I hope this helps!  Questions are welcome in the comments section.

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections