Basic tips for writing college papers

There are two types of paper you might be asked to write for a science course, the experimental write-up and the descriptive paper. These are tips for writing a descriptive, or research, paper. Also, you can read about editing and revising steps in writing process.
The elements of your paper are going to follow the standard format. You will have an abstract, an introduction, a literature review, a main body divided into sections and a conclusion, followed by references.

Research

Your first step is always the research. This is much easier now than when students had to search physically through indexes and find the articles in journals, but you still need to spend some time on searching for relevant papers. Look for historical context as well as recent work, and make use of your college library’s electronic resources. You should have access to major journals. Also look at Google Scholar; you can find some papers allowing access to the full text but most will just give the abstract. Sometimes that is all you need.

As you search have a Word document open and use it to copy relevant abstracts and the reference for the paper. When you find a paper that is suitable, read the introduction and the conclusion first. You may find all the information you need from these two sections. Find at least three scientific papers on the topic, and make sure one of them is the most recent. You might also check the science magazines and newspapers to see if there is an article you can use. Make a note of the references for these; if you have to go back and find the reference it wastes time. If you have done the research properly, your paper is halfway there.

Sections

The abstract is traditionally written last, but you can draft a paragraph to serve as a guide to the rest of the paper, with the understanding that it may be rewritten once your paper is complete. The abstract is a summary of the contents of your paper. It is one paragraph, usually of 150 to 200 words. Read a few abstracts to see how they are written.

Your introduction will start with the topic and why it is meaningful. You can be somewhat creative here, make it interesting by introducing people who have worked on the topic and point out the practical or commercial applications, if any. Give the historical context, and perhaps an interesting fact. You could say, for example, ‘It was once thought that blood-letting was an effective treatment for tumors.’ Follow this with some other forms of treatment and then you will be ready to discuss the modern surgical solutions.

A literature review is always daunting but can be done quite effectively by looking at the references on your selected papers. Search for the papers that have been referenced and you’ll know you are on the right track. The length of your literature review depends on the importance of the paper you are writing, and can be anywhere from half a page to five pages.

For the main body of the paper and the conclusion it can be very helpful if you write seven or eight sentences and use these as the first sentence in each paragraph. They form an outline and then you can expand upon them. This is a really good technique for organizing information. Your conclusion is a reiteration and summary of what you have found so far with a few sentences about future aims and research.

References are a bugbear for many of us, but once you learn the format they are not that difficult. Check which method of writing references is preferred by your professor. It may be on the syllabus.

Finally, check your paper thoroughly for grammar and spelling mistakes. If you read the paper aloud you will be able to tell if the writing flows well, or if it is choppy and needs tweaking.