Today on the blog I am bringing you part two of my series “10 Mistakes College Students Make When It Comes To Writing Papers.” Last week I shared part one which featured tons of fantastic tips that I have learned as a student and graduate assistant, and this week I am coming back at you with five more tips to end this series.
6. Students Do Not Make Appointments With Their Professors
Your professor is a critical person to make an appointment with because they understand what they are looking for better than anyone. If you are stuck picking a topic, want someone to look over your introductory paragraph (see my tips for creating a kick-ass intro paragraph here.), want someone to help you with citations, et cetera, call on your professor.
I encourage you to make an appointment and please make that appointment early enough for you to act on your appointment critiques! Your appointment shouldn't be the same day your paper is due, or even in the same week if you can help it. You need to make your appointment as soon as you have issues, don't wait for those issues to fester, because the longer you wait, the harder it will be to help you.
If you are working on a semester-long project I encourage you to make at least 1-2 appointments with your professor throughout the semester after you are given your instructions. Even if you understand the topic entirely and know precisely where you want to go making an appointment can be very beneficial. Your professor will love your initiative, be able to give you feedback throughout the semester, and you may even find that your professor wants to help you publish your paper or help you do a presentation about your writing.
7. Students Are Too Repetitious In Their Papers
We have all done this. How many ways can you say the same thing? When you have a 10-page paper, it can feel like you will never take up that much room, so you end up being too repetitious. Your professors can see through this act, and you have to stop doing this.
So, what do you do when you feel like you can't make it to your page limit? Well, you don't use synonyms, you don't try weird spacing tricks surrounding your periods and margins, etc.
You Go Back To The Drawing Board
I know, this sucks. There is some part of the writing experience you are not getting. You may have to:
- Add something to your outline
- Read more articles
- Look at the assignment again
- Make an appointment with your professor (le gasp!)
I know, this is definitely not something you want to hear, but you have to learn how to make page limits without depending on spacing tricks and repetitive words. Classes build on each other. I didn't just go from writing a 3-page paper to writing a 25-page paper. This took time. If I didn't use my classes as practice, I wouldn't be at the skill of writing I am at now.
I am thankful that I took my writing assignments seriously. Big papers don't scare me as much as they used to when I was a freshman. The build-up of papers was helpful for that. Don't try to trick the system by filling your paper with nonsense. Go back to basics and see how you can flesh out your paper the right way.
8. Students Do Not Have A Good Academic Voice
Okay, the things that people write in papers never ceased to amaze me. One of the great things that I got to do while being a graduate assistant was read academic papers. Sometimes it can seem like your papers aren't as important. It may seem like the paper you are currently writing is more laid back because it is only 1-3 pages. This is just not the case. You need a great academic voice when writing papers for college. It doesn't have to be perfect right away, you are still learning, but you need to start making strides in the right direction.
Students Do Not Write For Their Audience
Professors are going to be professors. I read a lot of papers that had a lot of slang in them, slang that made sense to me, but that I knew would never make sense to the professors I was working for. You need to write to your audience–just because you understand slang terms or the graduate assistant grading papers understands the slang terms, doesn't mean that you will be able to get credit for your paper.
Writing to your audience will help you be a better writer as well as help make sure you get all the points possible. You have to learn to write within the constraints of your audience. You wouldn't use college level language while writing a book for children, and you wouldn't use slang terms to write for your professors.
Get Help For Your Writing
If you have a problem writing to your audience–get help! I know I talk about getting help a lot, but sometimes this is the best thing you can do. You can easily get a friend or family member to proofread your paper, especially for slang terms. Ask them to highlight when you use these terms so that you can go back through and better explain those topics.
If you aren't sure of the best way to academically explain your topic, get help from your professor or use the tutoring services on your campus.
9. Students Do Not Anticipate Technical Issues
Part of completing papers is turning in those papers. You need to anticipate any technical issues that may happen while submitting your papers.
Use Microsoft Word
You could potentially use Pages or Google Docs, but I encourage you to use Microsoft Word. Sometimes the page numbers in Pages/Google Docs don't always match up with the page numbers in Microsoft Word, so creating it directly in Microsoft Word is helpful.
Your campus may even offer Microsoft Word free to all students. Ask your campuses IT department or check your school's website to see if they offer this. If not, buy it. You can get Microsoft Office suite for about $7 a month. It's super cheap and allows you to be sure that your paper will work with BlackBoard or any platform your school uses.
If paying for Microsoft Word isn't an option, use your campus library/computer lab to turn in papers. They usually have Microsoft Word and other Microsoft Office products on their computers. You can usually copy/paste your documents into Microsoft Word there, save it, and turn it in from there.
Make Sure That Your Paper Adheres To The Standards Your Professor Sets
Before you upload your paper you need to check everything from the font size to page numbers to citations. You may not be able to re-upload your paper if you catch a mistake, or your professor may not be able to help you re-upload the article right away on the paper's due date. Making sure that the paper is as perfect as it can be before you upload is important.
Give Yourself Time To Post Your Paper
Do not log on to your campus website at 11:59, when your paper is due at 12:00. What if your internet is down? What if BlackBoard is undergoing maintenance? You need to turn in your paper well before your paper is due so that you can make sure that you do not turn your paper in late. Most professors have their courses set up so that after a particular time the assignment is automatically taken offline. You could be just one second late and still not be able to turn in your paper.
10. Students Do Not Utilize Feedback
When students get back papers from professors, I see a lot of the same things, students stuffing their papers into their binders and moving on about their lives. They may not want to look at their papers in class or they may have gotten an A and decided that it was not worth looking into. When it comes to papers, your professors usually try to give at least a little bit of feedback. Go through that feedback and utilize it in your class. From the small one page assignments to actual papers–use that feedback to better your writing.
Especially once you get into your major area, there is a chance you may have a professor more than once. Even if this is the last paper you have for your class, utilize any feedback given so you become a better writer for that professor.
Feedback is so important and can help you go from a low grade to a high grade in a class. If your professor is offering you detailed feedback, use that feedback so that you can improve your writing skills.
Students Do Not Ask For Feedback When It Is Not Properly Given
Earlier this year on the blog I told you why I fought for one point on a paper. Oftentimes professors may dock you one or two points, and while the grade doesn't affect you right away, it may affect you a lot when it gets down to the wire. If you find that your professor is taking off a few points or just doesn't seem to want to give you a 100%, especially if they offer you no feedback for how you can improve your score, ask them to provide you better feedback. You have the right to understand how you can improve.
Sometimes when you get a score that close to 100% your professors may not leave you feedback or let you know how you can improve your score to 100%. Don't be afraid to talk with them after class and explain that you would like to improve your score and would like more valuable feedback on how to do so. Watch your tone when you ask for this feedback, and come at this from a genuine sense of wanting to improve your work.
I hope that you all have enjoyed this series on mistakes that college students make when writing papers. We covered those mistakes and how to avoid them. Writing papers becomes a huge part of your college career. You will definitely feel this if you are a liberal arts major like me! You need to learn how to develop your writing skills. I hope this series was helpful for you as you write your papers.