How to Ace Your Paper

It’s no secret that college is chock full of papers. No matter what you’re majoring in, there’s a good chance you’ll be writing more than one paper for most classes—it’s kind of hard to get away from!

The thing with writing is that it really doesn’t matter what your content is if your grammar and structure are totally chaotic. A great paper might be given a super low grade simply because of a variety of misspellings, poor comma placements, or inattention to your syllabus instructions.

Acing a paper includes attention to editing, and attention to editing requires some planning. We’ve put together a list of ideas that will help take the headache out of proofreading your papers.

1. Don’t write and edit in the same night

Let’s be honest, your brain is probably fried after hours upon hours of actually writing your paper. While you might be the type of person who just wants to get it over with and be done, editing right after you’ve written so many things is not always the best timing. If you’re tired, it’s easy to skip over things, and you’ve more than likely been reading and re-reading each line you’ve been writing, so it’s tough to see your words through fresh eyes.

Do yourself a favor, and sleep on it. Try proofreading your paper with a fresh cup of coffee the next morning (or whenever you have time), and you’ll probably catch things you wouldn’t have if you had tried to edit right after you completed the paper. When you’re reading with a new perspective, you might realize that a certain sentence sounds absolutely horrible when read by the light of day. Don’t be too hard on yourself—it’s hard to write coherently after midnight!

2. Have someone else read it

As much as we all wish ourselves to be the next William Shakespeare, it’s true that we all need a little help sometimes when it comes to our writing. Even the greatest of writers make it their aim to have others read and critique their work. While having someone else read your writing might feel like asking a big favor, keep in mind that you’re all in college, and you’re here to learn. You can always offer to swap papers and help proofread another classmate’s paper as well.

Another good option is to utilize your college’s tutoring services. You don’t have to be failing a class to have a writing tutor look over your work. He or she might catch things that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen, and they might be able to teach you a few tips and tricks along the way.

3. Read your paper out loud

It’s easy to gloss over small mistakes when you’re reading something to yourself. You’re so used to reading what you’ve been writing over and over again that you might completely miss an obvious mistake. Reading aloud slows you down and causes you to intentionally say each word, which causes your brain to notice if there’s something amiss. You might also find it easier to reshape a sentence if you speak it aloud.

4. Don’t forget about spell checkers and other technology

Oh, the beauty of online spelling checkers. And grammar checkers. And just about any other kind of checker you want! There are a whole bunch of different types of online checkers that can help pick out a whole lot of your spelling and grammar mistakes.

There are a few apps and extensions you can install to automatically check your writing as you go. If that’s distracting to you, you can always turn them off and check everything all at once when you’re done. Of course, don’t rely on spelling and grammar checkers alone—they oftentimes miss obvious mistakes. However, they’re definitely a helpful tool to utilize in this day and age.

5. Make sure to double-check the original requirements

Reading the instructions is always a good idea. Make sure you double-check your syllabus for all the extra elements that are a must for your paper. Are you writing in APA or MLA format? Do you need to include page numbers? Do you need a cover page? While you might go over some things in class, most professors expect that you will read over the specifics of what’s involved and ask questions as needed.

When those questions arise, don’t be afraid to ask them! Your professors are here to help you succeed.