7 Tips for Writing a Successful College Essay
The first week of class is not too soon to start thinking about a topic for your final paper. Look through all of the topics you will be covering throughout the semester and think about what you are most interested in – not what you already know the most about. The goal is to learn something new and share your learning with others through your writing, so you need to give yourself time to discover what interests you.
Ask yourself a question that you really want to know the answer to and make it your quest to find the answer. For example, perhaps you became interested in Dolores Huerta after a class lecture about her work with Cesar Chavez to organize the National Farm Workers Association in the 1960s. So you decided to read a Wikipedia article about her and learned that she was also a lobbyist throughout the 1970s and 1980s! That made you wonder what she lobbied for and the impact her lobbying has had on the rights of women today. That would be a great research question!
Start by seeing what Wikipedia, history.com, and other encyclopedic resources have to say to get the big picture. Then dig into some well-researched books and articles that provide more in-depth information that you can glean information from.
As you learn new information, take good notes always noting where you got it – always include the title and page number. Organize your notes in a way that you can easily find something you are looking for. Consider using a note-taking app to keep you organized and a citation generator to make sure you gather all of the essential information for each reference along the way.
Turn your research question into a statement that provides the answer(s) you found in your research. The answer may be very different from what you initially expected to find – that is great! It means you learned something new.
Organize your notes into big ideas. Put the most significant findings first followed by the remaining big ideas. Then get your words on paper – support each of your findings with facts, quotes, and commentary to help your reader understand their significance.
- Revise: Once you have a completed draft, read through it to see if it hangs together and says what you want it to say. Have you supported your conclusions with evidence? Is there a clear progression from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph? Have you left out any important information or included irrelevant details?
- Edit: Once the draft hangs together and says what you want it to say, it is time to focus on the little details. Have a friend or someone at the CTX writing center read it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Check references for unintentional plagiarism. Go back and check each paragraph. Have you cited your source? Look at the pages where you said you got the information. Is that the correct resource and page? Have you put it completely into your own words? If you are using the author’s words, have you put it in quotation marks and referenced them correctly? Finally, make sure you have included all of the resources you cited in your bibliography.