How to Get an A on Every. Single. Paper.

Let’s be honest, college is just writing essay after essay. I’m in the camp that would much rather crank out an assigned paper than sit-in for a daunting exam--nothing is scarier to me than the ever-disorienting scantron. Regardless of whether or not writing is your forte, essays will keep on coming. Writing is an indispensable skill for all career paths from pastry chef, to publicist, to private investigator. Here are my guidelines that will hopefully demystify and clarify the writing process that will make you worthy of that coveted “A.”

Do the topic that interests you, not the topic that will interest your professor

You know what it’s like to text your friend some incredible information you just found out: suddenly your hands are texting at warp speed, sending paragraph after paragraph of that juicy, exciting news! Writing is easiest when you are invested--and you will naturally produce better work. 

When assigned an essay with a flexible topic, truly take the time to find a subject that will interest you, not what you think the professor wants to hear. Why spend three weeks researching something you couldn’t care less about? Your professor has probably read hundreds of papers on the same topic, they will certainly appreciate a refreshing subject. Do your professor, and more importantly yourself, a favor and pick a relevant topic you are actually excited to learn about.

Now you have the perfect topic... But is there evidence?

A paper is nothing without evidence. Are there texts that speak to your subject? Scholarly articles? Documentaries? Books? Primary sources? Just make sure there is sufficient information to base your argument on before you start drafting. You will definitely streamline your research process if you just take 20 minutes to do a little preliminary digging to see what’s out there on your subject before going forward with your proposal, draft, outline, etc. I know you don’t have those expert social-media stalking skills for nothing! Re-apply them to your paper topic, future you is thanking you.

Choose a narrow topic that takes a POSITION

This is one of the most common errors I hear my professors griping about. A simple summary of sources or overview of a subject is not an essay! To get all fancy, “essay” is from the French word Essayer which means, to try. You are attempting to argue your position, to try to win the reader over to your side. The best essays have a thesis that is narrow, not too obscure (re: is there evidence?), that takes a stance on a topic. Within the first paragraph, the reader should know a) your topic b) your argument c) how you will prove this d) why it’s important. It’s a lot. But, like building a house or a flawless makeup look, a sturdy foundation will give rise to an amazing final product. You will be absolutely amazed how a robust thesis will make your writing process easier.

Example:

Meh: The French Revolution was an unprecedented event that changed the course of history of France.

Fire: The French Revolution used rhetoric of The Enlightenment Era to alter the course of French history, but ultimately failed to completely defeat hierarchical class structure because of violence and revolutionary hysteria.

Say less

Ok, besides actual word count restrictions, there really is a benefit to writing less in papers. It’s a difficult art, but when refined, simple writing can improve your communication skills tremendously! Take out those extraneous “fancy” words you think make your writing sound better; it’s useless to say that Tokugawa Japan was fascinating AND sophisticated. Duh! That’s why you’re learning about it! Instead, choose your quotes and examples wisely, let them speak for themselves--you just provide an analysis. Like they say, a really good quote is worth a thousand words… or something like that.

You made it to the conclusion! But now it’s time to be brave.

The conclusion is so slept on! Absolutely DO NOT, under any circumstance, let your conclusion be a dry summary of everything you already said. Certainly, reiterate your original argument and your most important points. But then, you must urge your reader to see why this stance should be important to them. Like I mentioned, your professor has read hundreds of essays, wouldn’t it be fantastic to come across a conclusion that is absolutely mind-blowing? The ending of an essay is the time to connect your themes to universal questions and subjects: the meaning of life, the plight of the feminist, the hero journey cycle, the fight of man versus nature. Think of it in terms of movies: sure a happy, predictable ending is satisfactory, but the best films have you reeling as you leave the theater.

Is it easy to write an essay? Not at first. Do I believe every single person is capable of improving their writing? Yes! Is there ever going to be a time in your life when you never have to write again? Nope! Good luck everyone and don’t forget your page numbers!