Being once again in the thick of the grading task as another semester winds to a close, I find myself compelled to share five things that will ALWAYS improve a paper. So here we go…
1. Have a thesis, and articulate it clearly.
Your paper should say something, and the specific thing that you want to say should be carefully worded and laid out in the introductory section of your paper. A research paper is not a mystery novel. Let the reader know up front what your point is going to be.
2. Give the reader a preview of your argument.
In the introduction, after you share your thesis with the reader, give the reader a synopsis of how you are going to demonstrate the reliability of your thesis. Describe your unique approach, lines of argumentation, or something. Think of it as a roadmap to the remainder of your paper.
3. Wrap it all up at the end.
In the concluding section, repeat your thesis. Again, clarity is necessary here. Also recapitulate the major features of your argument (this is a review of the roadmap we encountered in number 2 above).
4. Ensure that the body of your paper supports your thesis.
Take a cold, hard look at the logical argument presented by the body of your paper. Does it really substantiate your claim? If it does not, you should rework it. Or change your thesis. Or both.
5. Pay attention to grammar and issues of form.
While this may not affect the strength of your argument or the clarity of your thesis, this one is dead easy. Use the spell check/grammar check in your word processor! You are not finished until you have reviewed every last question raised by the spell check/grammar check.
If your school requires compliance with certain rules of form (the ubiquitous Kate comes to mind here), then you would be wise to comply with those rules, especially insofar as citation references, block quotations, and bibliographic entries go. Check and double check them.
When I receive a paper that is full of errors related to spelling, grammar, or form, it makes me think the author simply did not care enough to use simple tools immediately at hand. This casts a pall over the evaluation of other factors. To borrow Nike’s catch phrase, just do it!