I wrote this when I was an undergrad working as a tutor for my school's writing center. Almost a decade later, it all still holds perfectly true. I highly recommend students follow this simple checklist for making sure that any work being handed in looks like at least an hour was spent on it. And if any of these are difficult to check off ? Just about every college has a writing center that can probably help out, and most teachers are willing to help too if asked early enough.

  1. Do what the professor wants. Is there leeway when it's a question/answer type thing? Probably. Is there leeway when the professor says to go somewhere or use a specific source? Not really.
  2. A thesis/central idea is not optional. The essay has to be about something.
  3. Some of the ideas in the essay have to be original. It can't all be summation.
  4. Organization is very important. A paper has to explore/prove a central idea, and to do that, it can't be all over the place. Think of a debate structure-point, counter-point, resolution-just keep things tight.
  5. Sentence structure is another big one, run ons are evil because the try to cram so many things into one sentence that everybody loses track of what the sentence is really about, see not a very nice sentence to read. Keep things short and clean.
  6. Intros have to be in proportion to the rest of the essay. No three page intro for a five page essay. Same with conclusions, but this tends to be more of an issue with intros.
  7. Only put in info that's relevant. If Newton's life is not important, don't throw in a life history of Newton and if chapter 6 isn't critical to your thesis, don't sum it up.
  8. Know the text/info. Do not use the wrong theory, date, event, etc. It's sloppy.
  9. Tell the reader where things come from. This means cite, explain, develop. It's an academic essay, so the reader needs to know where the content is being pulled from.
  10. To get a C or better, pay attention to the rest. Diction and SPaG start becoming important, as does the quality of ideas, the level at which they're supported, etc.
  11. If aiming for the A-B range, think a lot about the structure. One method is to start each paragraph/section with a topic sentence explaining what that paragraph has to do with the thesis. Then make sure everything in the paragraph actually relates to that sentence.

Yes, this is another post in my "this should be common sense, but alas..." series. Republished from story645.livejournal.com