How to Get an A+ on Any Paper You Write


Some simple truths:

  •  If you hated writing it, I bet your audience will hate reading it. So make sure you are passionate enough about it. If you are writing a required topic that you didn’t get to choose yourself and you hate it then add an angle that makes you interested. (That is a more creative paper anyways). No one likes reading or writing something boring.
  • If you start the night before you can finish a paper. You can even get an A on a paper. But you better have the skills, research, and flair for writing to do so. Check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self. Unless you already know you can do this, and you already have a super great bank of literature at your fingertips and in your head – forget it. You are already doomed. Still do it. But don’t expect great things.
  • You don’t have to do a lit review.
  •  Jk, you always have to do a lit review.

STEP ONE: MAKE AN OUTLINE OF HOW YOU’LL WRITE IT (NOT NECESSARILY WHAT YOU’LL WRITE) (Or at least understand it).

Basic outline of a paper:

The Hook: A stat. An alarming quote. Something that makes me realize this paper is different from the 200 other crappy ones your prof is forced to read to get a paycheque.
Thesis: I am arguing this.
Lit-review: This is what people have said about the topic.
Method: Here is what I do differently to argue my topic or here is how what I think about the topic is different.
Value: Here is why my paper is incredibly important and original.
Body: (1) Here is a piece of evidence. (2) Here is my interpretation of that analysis. (3) Here is why this piece of evidence proves my overall thesis/argument.
Discussion: How does each main evidence piece connect to each other? How do they connect to my thesis?
Implications: What are the implications of my research? How can this be used or seen as useful?
Caveats: What are the holes in my research? What sucks about it? Now suggest the need for further research to fill these holes.
Clever ending: Cleverly tie either your title, or your hook/question in your intro to a one-liner at the end of your paper. Cheeky, but effective.

The order and style of these things will change based on your discipline and audience (prof). So how do you know how to make sure your paper includes these elements in the right way?
You draft your outline based on another paper. Literally copy the order and transitions of it. Use either 1) a paper that the prof has written himself/herself (google scholar their name) (they got published for a reason), 2) a similar style paper that has been assigned as a course reading (they chose it for a reason), or 3) an exemplary and similar paper from a peer-reviewed journal of your discipline.
I like to find the most similar published paper on my topic I possibly can, and then copy all the formatting, types of sections they use, and even how they develop their argument, etc. That way, the only thing you need to worry about in your outline is providing your evidence, your opinion, and your conclusion. The style of writing and arguing will already be perfected and edited for you!

STEP TWO: RESEARCH AND LIT REVIEW

Sometimes I am really lucky and I brilliantly concoct a thesis with all my arguments right off the bat, or I have had a mentor that has refined (basically spoon-fed) my ideas into an amazing thesis. But usually this will not be the case, and to be honest this is not good research. Good research (and how you will write the majority of your papers) will include lots of reading and brainstorming BEFORE you know what you are arguing. Thus always, always, start a literature review well in advance, and let it determine your topic and argument. This is how it is done in the real world; this is how you should do it in school world too. I cannot emphasize enough this step. If anything, you can get away with not even including ANY OTHER element in the outline, and still have an amazing undergraduate paper, if it is a well-thought out literature review. In fact, most “research” papers that your prof will ask you to do, are probably just giant literature reviews, because it is rare that a class will require you to conduct your own research experiment, unless it is a methods course. So if anything, just learn this step. Perfect this step. Your undergraduate is just trying to basically teach this step (and yet rarely teachers spend time actually going over this with you).
*Also side note: doing this properly takes time. If you are like me (and the rest of human population), you like to procrastinate. But I can assure you, if you do this each time you need to write a paper, like any skill, you will become fast at this, AND being a fast lit reviewer means if necessary you can still write papers in a night or two that will get you good grades.
How to write a literature review:

Example: I am interested in writing about citrus fruits. I am pretty sure I will be talking about the skins of lemons versus limes in particular.

  1. Find 100 articles. Skim 100 articles. (Honestly you can get away with just reading abstracts and what not. It will save you a lot of time).
  2. Make a big list on a word document or something. Have the title, author & year. Then under, copy and paste the abstract or summary. Do this for all your articles.
  3. Print this list off. Cut you’re your list into strips for each article.
  4. Now sort through your strips. Place them piles that are similar. These categories can be totally arbitrary. You can have as many as you want. But eventually you will notice that a bunch of articles are kind of similar and can be grouped together. Or that some argue this. And some argue that. This is good. Now you will start to see general patterns of thoughts about your topic.
  5. Once you are comfy with the piles you have created for all your strips, group the piles together into little themes. I use each “theme” as a paragraph (or page) of my literature review.
  6. Below is a table that illustrates an example of themes that may occur if I was doing my lit review on citrus fruits. Each “X” represents a pile of strips I have on that topic.

Colour
  Smell
  Popularity  
Price
Lemons
X
X
X
X
Limes
X
X
X
X
Oranges
X

X
X
Dragonfruit
X
X



So in my example I read compiled 100 articles on citrus fruits. I found that most of the articles either talked about lemons, limes, oranges, or dragon fruits. I then started noticing that some articles talked about colour or smell, popularity or price. So I group these together too.

Should I include all of these in my literature review? In general yes.
However, let’s say I’ve decided that Dragonfruit is really useless to talk about. I mean there are only a few articles on it, and none of them even mention popularity or price. I can choose to drop this completely and just focus on the other fruits, or I was feeling adventurous I could argue that dragonfruit is missing in literature, and why is that? (As you can see, by doing this process, you will now have a clearer idea of what your thesis should be).

Developing a thesis based on your literature review

From my literature review results I can now create actually important thesis statements that are already grounded in real, live articles. (Have you ever begun to write a paper and then realized you have absolutely no articles or resources to base it on? Well, problem solved. Do a literature review first.)

What kind of thesis statements could I make based on this chart?

  • Topics you would choose if you were not going to be going out and conducting your own research: (Choose topics that combine areas with lots of “X’s” or that you have a lot of articles about)
  • Comparing the colouring of citrus fruits. (I use the articles under the “Colour” column)
  • An in-depth look at lemons versus limes. (I use the lemon and lime rows)
  • Popularity versus Price: An analysis of three types of citrus fruits. (Looking at lemons, limes, and oranges under the popularity and price columns).

Topics you would choose if you were going out and conducting your own research: (Choose topics that are missing “X’s” where more research is needed).
  • The popularity and price of Dragonfruit. (Research missing X’s)
If this is the type of paper where you are not going out and conducting your own research, then your “literature review” is actually your entire paper. You would do the following:

  1.  Still write a quick general lit review of all those 100 articles, and all of the topics. Base this on just the abstracts or summary strips. This just acts as a nice intro, and shows that you have really researched the area. Don’t let this part of the paper take up too much space though. You want your lit review to be no more than ¼ of the paper.
  2. Then you transition into your actual argument or area of focus. Take the strips of paper of your chosen topic, (ie: Comparing the colouring of citrus fruits. (I use the articles under the “Colour” column)) and actually read those articles.
  3. Skip ahead to “Developing the Body” section.

If this were the type of paper where you must go out and conduct your own research, then you would write a literature review before you present your own original research. You would do the following:

  1. Write a quick general lit review of all those 100 articles, and all of the topics. Base this on just the abstracts or summary strips. This just acts as a nice intro, and shows that you have really researched the area. Don’t let this part of the paper take up too much space though. You want your lit review to be no more than ¼ of the paper. The point of this though will be to show that you know about all the research on the topic, and that you can prove that there is MISSING literature, and the YOUR RESEARCH will become that missing literature.
  2. Follow the outline provided at the beginning of this tutorial, to shape the rest of your paper.

What about those strips of paper?
So you’ve actually read the articles that were grouped into the piles that actually had to do with your thesis. When I read an article for a paper I assume I will be reading a lot of them, so I don’t get caught up in the details. Work smart, not hard. I will try to jot three to five main points from the article. I will also obviously include any hard facts, or points that will prove my thesis on this list too.
I use the piles from my lit review to form the basis of what to include in which section.
I then take each pile and organize it into a “mini paper” or topic itself. Then I write each section.
So my paper might look like this:

  •  Lit review of citrus fruits and characteristics. (Based on the summary strips)
  •  Thesis based on my topic I chose from those strips:
  • Comparing the colouring of citrus fruits. (I use the articles under the “Colour” column)
  •  I actually read the articles that are on the strips I am using. I replace the summaries with three to five main points, facts, or quotes that I would want to include.
    •  I will actually make each point or fact a new strip. I add a short citation beside each point so when I cut them up and organize them back into piles, I’ll always know how to cite it, and where it came from.
  •  I organize my new strips into groups or themes that are similar just like I did for my literature review. Except now I won’t be struck putting a whole article with another whole article. I can mix and match points from different articles into similar groups.
    •  This is important because a prof doesn’t want to read summaries of articles on a topic. They want to know that you can connect different articles with each other. You DON’T want to present your paper like this: Article A says, Article B says, Article C says; therefore, A, B, and C prove my thesis. You DO WANT your paper to be organized like this: A and B said this, ACDE said this, BF said this, and thus when we link ABCDEF like this, we can see they are actually proving my thesis. By mixing and matching your new strips into themes you will accomplish this KEY type of thinking your profs are looking for.
  •  Now get this, when I actually have figured out the themes, and organized each themed pile into how I want them I have my entire paper, evidence and all lined out. All I need to do now it type up the sections as I have organized them. Open up the word document you used to make the strips and copy and paste each point in the order you organized them when you made the piles. 
    • If you took the time to add the citation [Ex: (Smartypants 2015)], to the end of each point in the word doc, you won’t even need to worry about adding those in too. Just copy and paste them along with the pointOnce you have pasted all of the facts in the order and sections you organized them in, you have the barebone of your body. These points are your “evidence.” See below for what else you have to add in order to finish this paper. 

*Note: If you just directly copied a line from the article as one of your strips, you will eventually have to change them into your own words. Otherwise, this is plagiarism. I frequently start by copying a line I want to include from the PDF article directly when I am making the strips, but then once I have organized the strips, and copied them in the order I want in my paper, I go through and change it into my own words. Or you can just start off right, and write each sentence in your own words when you are making the new strips.
Developing the body (No this section is not about puberty. It is about essays).

Body: (1) Here is a piece of evidence. (2) Here is my interpretation of that analysis. (3) Here is why this piece of evidence proves my overall thesis/argument.
Discussion: How does each main evidence piece connect to each other? How do they connect to my thesis?

Okay, first thing first. COPY COPY COPY. No, do not copy content - that is plagiarism. But just like tracing can make you a better drawer, it can also make you a better writer. Pick your favourite article like I told you to do in the beginning. Break down one of their meaty paragraphs. How do they argue something? Probably something like this:


(1) Here is a piece of evidence.


Insert citations for all the strips of paper in your pile under this topic. If you can quote ten smart people talking about this point, then you look ten times smarter yourself.


(2) Here is my interpretation of that analysis.


Don’t just quote something. Don’t just say: Scholars have said that the skins of lemons, limes, and oranges are the same, albeit colouring (Smartpants 2015, SmartoMcFarto 1997, Smart Alec 1999, Smarty Marty 2008).

Instead say, “Scholars have said that the skins of lemons, limes, and oranges are the same, albeit colouring (Smartpants 2015, SmartoMcFarto 1997, Smart Alec 1999, Smarty Marty 2008). If this is the case, colouring plays a crucial role in classifying citrus fruits based on their physical experience.
What did I do there? I added my opinion. Quote the scholars, and then make sure to talk back to the scholars. Act like your opinion matters. Prove that these scholars would agree with you and your paper’s argument if they were actually standing there with you.


(3) Here is why this piece of evidence proves my overall thesis/argument.


Make sure that you always relate each point back to the main argument. At the very least, make sure you do this at the end of each paragraph. Readers are forgetful. If you only mention your thesis once at the beginning and once at the end, they won’t get the point. I can’t tell you how many times I have handed in a draft, only to have it handed back to me with a comment along the lines of, this is brilliant, but what’s the point?
A great way to see if people get your thesis, is to get them to tell you what they think the point of your paper is. You would be surprised, at how easy it is for a random person to read something you wrote, and not get it. It is easy to get caught up, and not drill the main point. MY PAPER IS ABOUT THE COLOURING OF LEMON AND LIMES PEOPLE. (Now make that sound academic).

Bringing it all together

So I have now pretty much finished my paper. I have a lit review, and my main body of evidence and analysis. It is now time to workshop my introduction and conclusion. I always try to do this at the very end. Do not waste your time writing an introduction or conclusion in the beginning. Here is why: most likely your paper is not going to be arguing the same thing you thought you were arguing. If you say you going to argue that the colouring of lemons and limes are the key indicator of what type of fruit they are, but then proceed to explain something completely different in your paper, you will receive a poor grade. EVEN if it was incredibly well researched, correct, well written, etc. Most likely you will change your thesis (without even knowing) through the actual process of writing your paper.

So follow this process. Write the lit review on body of the paper. Now let it sit for a night. You want to read it with fresh eyes. If you can, get someone else to read it. Ask them, what am I trying to say in this paper? Maybe they will say, it seems like you are arguing that lemon and lime skins are very similar. Don’t be alarmed that they didn’t get your original thesis, but make sure you change your paper in one of the following ways: 1) You make your thesis, intro, and conclusion based on the fact that lemon and lime skins are very similar (because that is what your paper is saying anyways), or 2) if you need to have the original thesis you were aiming for, it is important to you that you have your original thesis, or you know that “lemon and lime skins are very similar” is a stupid thesis, then you must change the body of your paper to make sure the original thesis is clear. ONLY add an intro and conclusion once you know that your body, evidence, and analysis match it.

The finishing touches.

Go back to my first step and see how you can add the sections I included in my suggested outline. These sections are highly important in the academic world. The reason I am mentioning these in the “finishing touches” section is because it is most important that you have the foundation of a good paper, which is the lit review and organization I mentioned. If you have those elements mastered, then put every best effort into including these other sections. A top paper, or journal article will include all elements. But you should always focus on mastering the thesis, content and basics first.

Here a few easy quick fixes to spice up your paper and grade as well:

  • Discuss it with your prof. I cannot stress how important it is to develop professional relationships with professors. They are your mentors. If you take a genuine interest in getting a better grade, and asking for their advice (and then applying it), you will probably get a better grade just for taking that initiative, even if your actual writing didn’t improve that much.
    • Running your topic by your prof is also pretty important. I have made the mistake of writing a great paper, but getting an o.k. grade because the topic wasn’t really what the prof was looking for, or it needed to be more refined. Check with your prof as much as possible in order to know what they are looking for.
  • Make it look presentable. If the citation style, and prof allows, add a cover page. Don’t let it get crinkled. Make it stand out for looking professional. Don’t do anything unconventional or gimmicky, but those little touches such as nicer quality paper, can make a difference.
  • CITATIONS. CITE. CITE IT RIGHT. Enough said.Put time into your title. (But not till the end). Something that connects with the last impact sentence in your paper is great. Make an impression. I like to have something that grabs your attention, and then a subtitle that succinctly includes the major theory or point.
    • Example: Who’s turn is it anyways? An analysis on the gendered division of household labour in the Contemporary Mormon household.
      • I then ended the paper with something along the lines of…in the end it doesn’t matter who’s turn it is, as long as you love and appreciate the person who’s doing it! (Cheesy I know).


© Miss Lauren Kyle
Maira Gall