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Paper Writing Tips for Students: Look Smarter and Get Better Grades!

Paper Writing Tips for College Students:  Look Smart and Get Better Grades!

As both a college professor and a recent graduate student, I have written and read more papers in the last 10 years than I can count.  One thing I realized quickly was that I didn’t know as much about proper grammar and punctuation as I thought.  And even my brightest students didn’t seem to know all the rules either.  My world changed when my sister, Carolyn, introduced me to Microsoft Word Writing Style settings.  It changed my writing for the better instantly and I can’t wait to share what I learned with you.  With a few simple changes, you’ll look smarter, get better grades, and totally impress your teachers!

writingFabrian Irsara/ Unsplash.com

Find Out the Rules

For better or worse, every professor seems to have different grammar and punctuation rules that you need to follow.  So, the first thing you need to do is find out what the paper writing rules are for your assignment.  Here is a list of some common things to know.

  1.  Format Style.

    Do you need to follow a formal style such as APA or MLA?  If so, make sure you have a reference book, software program, or at least some good websites to help you with these rules.  Sometimes your instructor may provide you with a tip sheet to help you along too.

  2. Point of View.

    Most college papers are written in the third-person point of view.  But in certain cases first or second person are allowed.  If you’re not told otherwise, write in third-person.

  3. Comma Use in Lists.

    Another rule that can change from time to time is whether to use a comma in a series of item.  For example in discussing the United States flag, would we say it is red, white, and blue?  Or would we say red, white and blue?  Although the difference is subtle, the second example implies that there are two parts to the flag, half red, and half white and blue.  The first example implies three equal parts.  The following is a link to a great article describing serial commas in more detail Get it Write- Serial Comma Use.  In academic writing, the general rule of thumb is to include a comma before the word AND.

  4. Spacing Between Sentences.

    Most of us grew up inserting two spaces after the end of every sentence.  It was routine for us to do the tap-tap after a sentence ended.  Then came APA format confusion when some of us switched to one space.  But, not everyone made the switch;  universities each decided which was preferred.  Both are acceptable depending on what are you doing, you just need to know which one is required.

  5. Punctuation with Quotes.

    Another common discrepancy is whether to include your end punctuation before or after your quotation marks.  To learn more about this topic, I refer to one of my favorite online resources, Grammar Girl.  She has posted an article entitled “How to Use Quotation Marks” that you can check out.  It seems more common that the quote is part of the sentence and in those cases the punctuation goes before the quotation mark.  It’s important for you to determine how you want to set your proofreader.

Set Up Your Proofing Checks

The best way for me to explain how to set up your proofing in Microsoft Word was to create a video.  So you’ll want to open up your Word program and find the options tab.  Then click on the video below for all the details.  This demonstration was made using Microsoft Word 2010, but you should be able to easily adapt the information to whatever version you are using.

Extra Pointers on Settings

If you were a little overwhelmed by which check boxes to check in the grammar style section, here’s a little more help.  For starters, you can’t go wrong if you check everything.  This means that the software programs will check for everything when you run the spelling and grammar check.

However, you may not want the program to identify everything that is possibly wrong.  For example, in my doctoral work, using passive sentences was acceptable.  If I left that box checked, the program would find every instance of passive voice and force me to deal with it.  If I left that box unchecked, it wouldn’t find it but since I didn’t care about that, it was better for me to tell the software to skip that check.

Perhaps some of you noticed that I left some things unchecked that normally you would want checked for college level work.  Examples would be use of first person and contractions.  I should warn you that I recently changed my setting to meet my blogging needs since I am no longer regularly writing papers (Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!)  In blogging, a much more casual tone is recommended, so using contractions and first person are actually a good thing in the blogosphere!  Know your assignments guidelines and follow them for the best success!

Feel free to email directly or leave a note in the comment section if you have any questions or feedback!

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