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How to: Write That Final Paper!

The Alabama humidity is starting to make our hair frizz, and Saturdays are spent poolside. Summer is about to make its debut, collegiettes! But if a big paper is looming between you and summer freedom, don’t worry! HCA has tips, tricks, and information on UA resources at the ready to help you write an A-worthy final paper.

Dr. Patricia Norton and professor Stanley Jones both teach English composition classes at UA, and they have plenty of advice for any collegiettes worried about ending the semester on a good note. If you can get these few tips, writing papers should be a breeze, term paper or not!

1.     First things first: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

College papers aren’t like high school papers.  They’re focused on specific topics and require a lot more research to back them up.  The five paragraph essay is no longer law of the land, and there are many different types of paper that you meet. “The writing tends to be subject driven: for an English paper, you research an author, in history you’d research some element within that subject,” Norton said. “Science and engineering is more report driven – you’ve done something, and you’re reporting it – it doesn’t mean research isn’t required.”

College is about academic writing and academic writing is different. “About half of my students said they came to college thinking they had a good handle on writing,” Jones said. But those same student now feel they were “under-prepared by their high school English classes.”

2.     It’s not about the final product, it’s about the process.

If you’ve grasped writing basics, you’ve won half the battle. Good vocabulary is a good tool but don’t overuse it. English professors don’t like fluff, and they’ll respect you more if you get to the point, Norton explains. “Saying it flat out sometimes serves you better – because it’s sometimes awkward if you don’t. There are a lot of words people don’t use, and that doesn’t make them bad, you just have to decide if using the word is precisely what you mean and if it’s a good tradeoff for the lesser word,” Norton said. 

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3.     Each professor is going to be different

English professors assume a lot of the time that you have the writing process down, but with professors in other departments, it really just depends. “You’ll find with some humanities professors who are very much about the writing process, and you could have great ideas but you support them problematically, and they’ll grade for that instead,” Norton adds.  With science and engineering, she points out that they want the data and are more concerned with the science in the writing than the writing itself.

4.     Research, research, research

College papers involve a ton of research – and with good reason. They back up any argument, making you look credible, Jones says. If the information given in the paper is credible and is cited right, you’re on your way to looking like you know exactly what you’re talking about – even if you have no clue. “It sounds like you have to prove you know what you are talking about before you can have an opinion, and essentially, that is absolutely correct,” Jones says.

5.     Pay attention in English Composition – it could pay off later.

And if you didn’t pay attention in EN 101 or 102, try and remember what you learned if you have a case of the midterm-paper-blues. “Freshman English classes teach the process and skills of writing academic papers and some are formally articulated; some are unwritten rules that you will pick up best and fastest by getting to know the professors in your major as soon as you can,” Jones says.

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If you’re looking for more help, the Writing Center (located in 322 Lloyd Hall) is full of experts dedicated to your success.  The center is directed by Dr. Luke Niiler, an associate professor at UA.

“We think about writing as an invitation to put your own mark on something – it’s an opportunity to think out loud and it might make a difference,” Niiler says. “I would argue that even the most seemingly ridiculous prompt from the most inexperienced teacher with the worst attitude ever, or the most experienced teacher is an opportunity to come alive with thought and to really leave a mark and to produce something they can be proud of – and that’s where we come in.”

The Writing Center focuses on the writer and isn’t concerned so much with the process. They make it a point to make better writers instead of better papers. The center encourages collegiettes to make an appointment ahead of time to get the full paper-pampering experience.

Lindsey Bowden, a freshman nutrition major, didn’t write a lot papers until she came to UA.  She makes sure to have constant open communication with her professors and encourages others to do the same. “I think I have the most trouble with starting a paper and ending a paper, and I email my professors and visit them during their office hours to get help. My professor really likes when you start a paper and your ending kind of matches your start, like summing it up,” Bowden says.

Regardless of how you write that annoying term paper, most agree that it isn’t what you write.  It’s how you write it, and getting the process down can lead to papers that blow your professors away. Use these tips and visit the Writing Center to create a phenomenal final paper, and you’ll be poolside before you know it!



UA Writing Center

Tori Linville is a freshmen at the University of Alabama majoring in English with a minor in Creative Writing. She likes to think she thrives under pressure, which is why she's usually running around campus trying to tackle her to-do list. She misses her ill mannered chihuahuas and will croon over your dogs if you bring them to the quad, so watch out.
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