5 Steps to Writing the Perfect Paper

A great essay doesn't always come naturally, but you can make the process a little easier with these five steps to perfect paper writing.

Whether it’s your first or 50th college essay, it's important to learn how to write a paper the right way. While you may have learned a lot about essay writing in high school, expectations in college are different, and it's easy to feel a bit lost. But the purpose of higher education is to improve your knowledge and skills, and effective written communication is one of the best skills you can develop. These tips will help you wow your professor—and yourself—with your abilities on your next essay.

1. Break down the topic

Most essays provide a prompt. However, as courses become more advanced, it's not uncommon for students to choose their own topics. Either way, it's necessary to make sure you realize the intentions of your essay. Before you dive in, set aside time to thoroughly review the assignment and consider your goal. And don’t be afraid to contact your professor if you need guidance with the direction of the paper.

The type of paper you’re writing is equally important. Typically, a student can expect write a research, narrative, expository, informative, or persuasive essay. Each of these needs a different approach. For instance, a research paper requires the writer to analyze or assess a subject and provide evidence-based arguments. Before you start writing, make sure you’re completely clear on the goal and angle of your essay—this will provide a smoother writing process.

2. Construct an outline

Don't jump directly into your final product. Instead, start with an outline—it's crucial to stay organized so you don’t wander off topic. First, identify your thesis and write your thesis statement. This should be a sentence or two summarizing your overall argument for the paper within your introductory paragraph. Your thesis should always be two basic parts: the argument and the “why” behind it. Once the basic thesis is clear, identify supporting points to back up the “why” of your argument. After you write down a brief summary of your thesis and its supporting points, use bullet points or Roman numerals to create a structure of the paper’s subsections. Feel free to consult the guidelines of the assignment as you complete this part of the process. Don't hesitate to make use of your school's resources if you need help.

Using your newly structured outline, go through what you intend to write throughout the piece. What will the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs say? How do you want to convey your overall thesis? Think about these questions to flesh out the outline in more detail. If you’re using your laptop to outline, remember to insert links to online resources so you can access them later.

Related: A Step-by-Step Guide for an Effective Research Paper

3. Start with the body

Every writer takes a different approach to a new project, but many students like to start in the middle and expand outward. This way, it can be easier to write the introduction and conclusion when the time's right. Here are some key paper writing tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep your thesis in mind as you write. Everything you write should tie back to your thesis, so make sure you’re presenting information to support that thesis. Otherwise, you’ll have to go back and adjust it later.
  • Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence. And end each with a connecting sentence to the next paragraph.
  • Stick to third person. Unless it's a narrative essay, terms like "I am" or "I think" may discredit your points, as they're overly casual.
  • Format quotes correctly and provide enough evidence for your points. As you write, make notes of what sources you used after quotes and information—this is important for when you go back to add proper in-text citations.
  • Consult your style guide and follow guidelines for the assignment. In MLA style, for example, you should never use contractions, and all your in-text citations should follow a specific structure.
  • Write clearly and concisely, aka without fluff. Learning to communicate effectively in writing is a skill that will help you achieve success both in college and later in your professional career.

Remember to continuously consult your outline for guidance and structure as you write.

Related: 5 Helpful Ways to Improve Your Writing in College

4. Add a few final touches

After you've completed the body paragraphs, it's time to circle back. Construct the introduction in a way that establishes the topic clearly. Don't forget to incorporate your thesis statement at the end. Then head to the bottom and conclude your piece. Reference the points you’ve presented and reiterate your thesis statement in different words. The conclusion paragraph shouldn't add any new information.

Now it's time to edit your essay. Think about what synonyms you can use to eliminate repetition and make the piece stronger—and of course, look for spelling and grammatical errors as well. Even more importantly, make sure the paper flows and that the points you’ve presented are relevant and supportive of your thesis. Ask a friend to review it as well; a fresh set of eyes can do wonders. 

5. Cite all sources

Once you're satisfied with the final product, create your works cited page. You've likely completed a similar task in high school, but college bibliographies can be tricky. Depending on which format you used to write your paper—likely MLA or APA—research how to compile your references accordingly. Make sure your in-text citations are correct and formatted according to the right style as well.

Related: How to Show, Don't Tell to Boost Your Writing for School and Beyond

Take note of these steps to perfect paper writing. Before you know it, you'll be an expert at putting together polished and professional essays that’ll get you a good grade every time.

For more writing and assignment advice, check out our Majors and Academics section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is an education writer who helps students and teachers pursue their passions. Read more of her work on Syllabusy

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Farrah Macci

Farrah Macci

High School Class of 2016

CollegeXpress has helped me in many ways. For one, online searches are more organized and refined by filtering scholarships through by my personal and academic interests. Due to this, it has made searching for colleges and scholarships significantly less stressful. As a student, life can already get stressful pretty quickly. For me, it’s been helpful to utilize CollegeXpress since it keeps all of my searches and likes together, so I don’t have to branch out on multiple websites just to explore scholarship options.

Sonny Harris

Sonny Harris

College Student

For the entire year before college, I spent a lot of time deeply considering what major I wanted to go into and how to fund my higher education. After a lot of research, I came across CollegeXpress, which helped me ultimately find a ton of scholarships for which I could apply—and some of which I received! If it weren’t for CollegeXpress, I may not have found those scholarships as they didn't appear on any other scholarship search forum. Additionally, I learned more about the options I had been considering for my major through CollegeXpress’s resources. In the end, I chose to major in Computer Science, as it seemed best suited to me and the careers in the field seemed enjoyable, and I've never been more excited to move into my future! Ultimately, I want to thank CollegeXpress for offering their services. I received enough financial aid in scholarships to fund my entire freshman year of college and even got some money refunded which I used to purchase a new laptop, and I bought all of the books I needed for the semester!

Rayan Hamdan

Rayan Hamdan

High School Student

I joined CollegeXpress just a few months ago. I had been struggling with severe anxiety, causing me to not be able to tour schools and make sure a college would be perfect for me. I came across CollegeXpress one day when I was searching for colleges online, and it completely changed the game. I was easily able to choose colleges that would suit me, and I also entered a few giveaways! Thank you so much!

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

Jasmine

Jasmine

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find the school I am currently attending by consistently sending me emails of other schools. This allowed me to do research on other schools as well as the one I am in now!

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Ashland University

Ashland, OH

Washington College

Chestertown, MD

Stevenson University

Stevenson, MD