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.



I’m reading Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections 



  1. Great points and suggestions. Do remember that when writing essays, spelling is important. It is also important for any professional writing for which the author desires to be seen as an authority or to be taken seriously. See paragraph 7, sentence 5 above. One makes a much stronger argument when argument is spelled correctly. 😉

  2. Thank you for your input on writing an essay. Just in the last few weeks I have had to several essays for Behavioral Science. The most important detail not to forget is to make sure you include everything the instructor wants in the paper. You will surely miss points rightr off the bat no matter how well written your paper is. Make sure it is in proper apa format , if that is what is ezpected, PROOFREAD your paper, and make sure your grammar and spellinf are correct. When you do research make sure you properly in-text cite your references as well as on your referenc page. I have found many erors of sentences that just do not make sense when I PROOFREAD my paper. This is how I get the maximum score possible to just make saure to follow the little things. This also will lead to a not so great paper to an exceptional one.

  3. I am not a student right now, but am a mom & writer. I would also like to suggest that you pass your paper by a trusted source (not a student in the class, but a parent or close friend) as a second set of eyes. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve skipped over a glaring error multiple times because your eye is just not picking it up–because it’s too new), if it’s a rushed job. An even better idea in piggy-backing on not seeing the error, is to manage your time efficiently enough to write it, and have a good amount of time to take a break from it to see those errors. When I look back at some things I’ve written, and have had a week away from it, I see things that I nearly smack my forehead over. So get your work done in bite sized chunks vs. cramming, and have someone else read it over–again, make sure it’s someone that you can trust vs. a plagiarizing classmate.

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