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Best pointers for university writing that will help you ace that final paper

By Furyal Hussain, April 7, 2021—

The spookiest season of the year is approaching — finals and term paper deadlines. I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling burnt out this semester. Maybe it’s the nice weather outside and the desire to lay on a beach somewhere but not being able to, or perhaps it’s just the sheer amount of papers that I have had to write this semester. Whatever it is, I’m ready for it to be over. 

As a Law & Society major with a minor in Political Science, I have written about 400 pages worth of essays and written assignments throughout my degree thus far. It has been draining — but the feeling of closing tens of tabs after finishing a long paper is so satisfying. More importantly, because of all my experiences, I have successfully developed some pointers and habits that have always helped me succeed in writing long, tedious papers. So I’m here to share with you how you can ace your upcoming final term papers. 

Make a list:

At the beginning of each semester, I go through my course outlines and make an assignment tracker that lists each course, the assignments due for said course, how much each assignment is worth and my target grade and my target grade class. Having an assignment tracker on your study table will allow you to schedule your time and plan in advance for what you need to do to succeed and reach your goals. I usually make an aesthetically pleasing tracker on Canva, but there are a bunch of free printable ones on Google, too.

Start early:

In my experience, the key to a strong paper is starting it early. I usually aim to have at least the introduction and outline of a paper ready the day it is assigned or discussed in class — typically, two weeks before the due date. This gives you a chance to let your ideas marinate and develop until you are ready to sit down and write the entire thing. 

Write multiple drafts:

If time allows, multiple drafts can boost the quality of your paper. If you start even a week before a paper is due, you can write a very rough draft on the first day, then return to it in a couple of days with a fresh set of eyes. Doing this allows you to notice any errors or gaps in your reasoning or arguments and encourages critical thinking. I find that printing out hard copies of my work and editing using a pen helps me analyze my papers better. Of course, the discretion is yours if you want to edit on your computer. 

Listen to lo-fi music while doing your papers:

I didn’t start doing this until Winter 2021, and I hate that it took me so long to learn about the effects of music on concentration. Studies have shown that listening to instrumental music makes an immense difference in your focus and efficiency. Some people prefer classical music, others prefer lo-fi. Here’s an excellent playlist that’s updated almost daily and has transformed my life and focus.

Talk to professors:

This might be the most important tip that I can give you. Sometimes, many students feel like professors don’t care, but the reality is that most of them do want us to succeed. It never hurts to email them or book a meeting with them for clarification. I always book Zoom meetings with professors to discuss my papers and ideas and get their input and feedback. Doing so helps me understand the expectations, plan when I should start writing the essay and understand what degree of research I need to be doing. It also shows your professor that you care about the assignment and want to succeed. 

A little side benefit: your professor might recognize your name when marking your paper and go easy on you — who knows? 

Run your essay through Grammarly:

Professors typically assign a significant chunk of the mark to style, coherence and grammar. To guarantee a full mark in this section, using a grammar checker such as Grammarly is the way to go. Grammarly has changed the quality of my work — and the best part is that it has a free version. Grammarly, or any other grammar checker application, often points out errors that the writer overlooks. Such programs also provide synonyms and rephrase options that add an oomph to your paper. This tip is not a necessity, but it’s become an integral part of my writing, no matter how small.

These tips may not necessarily help you based on your existing habits and processes, but it’s worth giving them a shot. It is definitely a draining time of the school year, but we are almost there. 

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