One of the biggest transitions students have to make from high school to college is learning how to write a college paper that stands out.
I remember the first essay I ever got assigned during my freshman year of college. My professor pretty much told us to forget everything we learned before about introductory sentences and rephrasing questions.
I had been practically brainwashed my entire grade school years to write one way and now they were expecting me to do something completely different?
I may or may not have had a minor panic attack while I was writing my first college paper because I wasn’t sure how to make it stand out in a way that was going to impress, not depress, my professors.
Thankfully, I got better and better at my papers as the years went on and by the time I enrolled for my master’s degree program, I knew exactly what I needed to do to get an A on every writing assignment that was presented to me.
I want to see you succeed, and that’s why I’m sharing my tips for how to make your college paper stand out (in a good way, of course).
1. Take Your Stand
I didn’t realize how lenient my high school teachers were until I got into my college English class and got dinged for not having enough of a strong stand on my chosen topic.
The old me thought that simply stating your opinion and providing a few examples for why would be enough information to write a convincing paper.
Little did I know that college wasn’t going to work that way.
I had to learn that writing a stand out college paper meant seeking out scholarly references to support my point-of-view. I also had to make my stand blatantly clear right from the start. I couldn’t just talk around a key point and hope that my words eventually made sense.
No, I had to make sure my voice was being heard, and why it was being presented the way it was.
I found that one of the easiest ways to help me make my stand was to write down all the main ideas I was going to present. Under each of those ideas, I would find at least one or two references that supported my idea so that it wasn’t just based on my own opinion. This helped me validate my answers and it gave my papers more of an academic feel.
I guess what I’m saying here is that your voice needs to show up in your college papers and it needs to be supported with someone of worth.
If you can convince your professors of something through your writing, then you’re doing something right!
2. Write According to Each Professor’s Expectations
In other words, you need to be flexible in your writing!
Every professor is going to have their own style, so while one professor is praising you for your word usage, another might ask you to fix it on the next assignment.
The key is to use your first written assignment as a sort of test. By this point, you should have at least an idea of what your professor is looking for (either because they gave you a grading rubric or they’ve shown you what information they want you to include).
You’ll want to take that information and use it to write the best first paper you can. Make sure you take the time to check your grammar and spelling, as well as paper formatting. These all seem like minuscule details, but the truth is that having errors in these areas can greatly impact your overall paper grade.
Once you get your paper back from your professor, make a note of any corrections or comments they added. Did they want you to expand on your ideas more? Did your paper need more references to support the facts you presented?
All of the feedback they provide is valuable and should be used on the next paper as a reference for what the expectations are going to be.
As you progress through your college years, you’ll become a better writer and you’ll learn to alter your style to fit in with what each professor considers to be “quality” writing.
Bonus Tip: Connect with a student who had the professor in a previous semester and ask if you can see one of their graded papers. You’ll be able to get a sense of what the expectations are going to be before you even have to write your first paper, giving you an exceptional advantage! This will definitely teach you how to write a stand out paper right from day one!
3. Read Your Paper Backwards and Out Loud to Catch Errors
One of the simplest ways to make your college paper stand out is to turn it in with no errors.
Sorry friends, spell check just isn’t going to cut it these days.
To really give yourself the advantage and make sure you’ve proofread your work to the best of your ability, you need to read your paper backwards and out loud.
Why This Works
Our brains get so used to reading left-to-right that we will often fail to see any errors in our work when we proofread this way.
To trick your brain into really focusing in on the words you’ve written, you need to change things up a bit and force your brain to see the errors that really do exist.
I started using this proofreading approach halfway through my college years and I wish I had started doing it sooner. You’d be surprised at all the little errors you’ll make when you write multiple papers every week. I call it “paper hypnosis” because your fingers just type away without your brain even processing what is going on the paper half the time.
So remember, the next time you have a college paper that is due, take the time to read it backwards and out loud before you turn it in for final grading. You’ll thank me later!
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Something
Do you really want to make your college paper stand out?
Try challenging an idea that you discussed in your class.
Not only will you spark your professor’s curiosity, but you will demonstrate that you aren’t afraid to use your critical thinking skills to work through something.
Now, it’s important to remember that if you decide to challenge something, you’ll need to have references and some type of support to back you up in your claims.
Oh, and don’t worry about whether the professor is going to agree with you or not… I noticed that professors gave out higher grades to those students that really worked through the material and came to their own conclusions than to those that merely skimmed the surface and failed to dive deep into the subject at hand.
And along with this point comes #5…
5. Demonstrate That You Learned Something
A college paper won’t stand out if it contains bland writing that is pretty much a summary of everything that was discussed during class time.
No. You need to do something bigger than that.
This is one of the places where providing examples, scholarly support, and connecting material comes into play.
I found that some of my most highly graded work came from the college papers that connected week one ideas with those we were discussing in week ten. I was able to see similarities and differences and use that knowledge to create a paper that demonstrated my grasp of not just the concepts at hand, but the entire course.
6. Cut the Filler Words and Use Different Vocabulary
A lot of students tend to use filler words in their writing when they have a minimum page requirement.
My advice is instead of using filler words, try finding a scholarly source to cite so that your college paper ends up with some substantial support rather than empty words that no one cares about reading. (You can read more about citing sources effectively at How to Write a Research Paper)
By doing this, you are again showing your professors that you are stretching your thoughts and pulling from sources outside of your own mind (always a good thing to do when you’re writing at the college level).
In addition to cutting out the filler words, you’ll want to use a thesaurus to help you come up with different vocabulary for the same words you want to use over and over.
No one likes to have the same word on repeat every sentence, so don’t be afraid to change it up a bit!
Struggling to Make Your College Paper Stand Out? Chat With Your Professor!
I know a lot of students struggle with making their college papers stand out, and that’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your professors about what you can do to make your writing better.
I had several conversations with my professors and I became a better learner because of it.
And if you’re noticing that you’re struggling with college in general, try reading some of these posts to get more tips for success:
- Best Study Tips for College Students
- 10 Study Tips for College Students
- My Secrets for Getting A’s in College
- Preparing for College Exams: Tips That Really Work