Why Writing Your Paper Isn’t Enough: 4 Steps to Make It Better (& Get a Happier Grade)

“I can’t tonight. I have a paper to write.”

I know I’m not the only one who’s said this before. But what if you could say this instead?

“I’d love to! I’ll be able to write that paper later.”

No, I’m not telling you to procrastinate.

Take some advice from a weathered writing major: writing your paper isn’t enough. You have to refine it. Make it something worth your teacher’s time. Make it good. But that doesn’t mean spend an entire day in the library editing.

I’m telling you how I’ve learned to edit more and stress less.

1.) Make your friends tear it apart.

Choose your audience wisely and read your paper aloud to them. When you’re finished, ask them for their raw opinions on the paper. Have them look at the copy. Make them share what they really thought by the end of your paper. Their comments, though they may be tough, will give you a fresh perspective on a subject you’ve studied for your paper.

That vulnerable feeling when someone reads your writing is hard to get over. But if you edit your paper so that it’s a quality paper, that vulnerability gets easier to overcome!

2.) Check your punctuation in less than 3 minutes.

I can normally check my punctuation in less than 1 minute, but that’s because I’ve had practice. I also don’t do it alone.

No, I don’t have a friend proofreading my paper. I use the Find tool in Microsoft Word. You can find this handy tool in the Home tab here.

In the search bar, type the desired punctuation mark you’d like to locate, and the Find tool will show you all the spots that have that searched punctuation mark. You can go through your paper and read the sentences to make sure the punctuation is used correctly.

You can also use the Find tool with words. I find this tool most helpful with quotations.

3.) Put your paper under the knife.

I’m all for flowery sentences that stimulate your senses. But I’ve found that teachers tend to dock those . . . unless they edify your paper. The key is to cut clutter and use precise words. Read your paper and cut out the clutter to form precise words to make your point engaging and satisfying.

Remember what Mark Twain said: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

4.) Glean from the experts.

Your teachers trust them. Your bookstores sell them.

I’m talking about reference books!

You don’t have to have a vast collection of writing and reference books like the English faculty (unless you’re a bibliophile). You just need some that you can trust. A good dictionary and manual can help you catch mistakes that almost everyone makes.

*My personal favorites are the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, The Careful Writer by Theodore M. Bernstein, and Garner’s Modern English Usage.

My Creative Writing teacher once said, “You’re all terrible writers. But you can be great re-writers.”

You shouldn’t expect a quality paper in an hour with this guide. But you can definitely expect a way to start cutting your editing time by practicing these hacks! If you practice these like I did, you won’t stress over your paper as much!

If you’ve got any hacks you’ve learned, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

The thoughts and opinions expressed in Life in the Nest are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pensacola Christian College.
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