A significant chunk of your college career is spent writing, editing, modifying, and re-writing papers. Just about every class requires papers or essays, so there aren’t many ways around this beast. If you want to write better papers, follow these five tips to impress your professors and score that A!


It’s simple and it helps. You need to write more so you can be more comfortable with the flow of words and the connection between thoughts and sentences. Start with your own stream of consciousness if you have to. Copy text from a novel, article, or assigned reading. Write a never-to-be-read letter to your professor. It doesn’t matter.

The act of creating material will awaken your gray matter. It’s similar to muscle memory in that, the more you write, the more you can write, and the easier it is to write. At the very least, you could keep a journal and fill it with details of your day, including quotes and reactions, as well as jokes and observations.

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Find awesome quotes from the book and use them. This shows that you have actually read the material — whatever it may be — and the notation shows that you’re capable of following directions from a style guide. Few professors ask for your opinion, instead they ask for examples found in the text to support or reject a certain topic, claim, or idea. Spend some time bookmarking quotations that you can use in your paper.

And if you’re really lucky, you can even search the text in a Kindle or using an online PDF, so you don’t have to flip through the pages of your book.

Reference Lectures

Everyone, especially teachers, wants to believe that someone is listening. We just want our words to be heard and appreciated.

If possible, you should somehow include a reference to a lecture in your paper. Nothing corny like, “As a smart man once said,” but something genuine that fits in with your paper can make a big difference. Your undergraduate career is the time to curry favor with your professors; save your own ego for graduate school.

Make Connections

This is probably the most important tip. Your task is to use a text, or other medium, to create and connect ideas, quotes, and concepts. If your Psych book gives a definition of a certain personality trait, you can link it to a character in your reading, or to an author or theorist. Connect loose ideas to concrete examples, based on the required reading for your assignment.

Present New Ideas

As I said, most undergraduate professors are grading your ability to utilize materials from the lectures and readings, so personal opinions are rarely desired or appreciated. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t present new ideas. You can do this by delving deeper than your standard Spark Notes explanations and class discussions. Focus on really presenting a new idea, interpretation, or connection that was never mentioned in the text.

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Image: Joanna Dobson