It has been a long-held theory that college papers have to be as boring as possible – if they aren’t boring, they aren’t good – but that doesn’t have to be the case! Here is your non-technical guide for writing a research essay.
Pick an Interesting Topic
More often than not, your professor will give you some flexibility in the topic of your essay; use these opportunities to research and write about topics that genuinely interest you! The key point is personal interest – not just your reader.
Even when your professor assigns a very specific topic, you will generally be granted enough creative freedom to add your own spin on a topic (as long as the research supports your claims).
Write a Story
What keeps you binge-watching Netflix? Is it the suspense of the show? The humor? The drama? Use the same tricks you see in your favorite shows in your own essay; allow the different elements of your paper to act and interact like characters.
For example, we all know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but why have your red blood cells dropped it faster than an ex? (Fun fact: your red blood cells do not contain mitochondria.)
Trick Yourself into Interest
I couldn’t tell you how many times I would be in a peer review session and I could tell that the essay author was bored with their topic. You may not always realize this, but the way you’re feeling while writing can sneak through in your papers! Try looking at the topic in a different way: what are the merits? What do other people find interesting? Focusing on your topic from the perspective of a person who is genuinely interested can help you write a stronger paper.
Develop a Stance on Oxford Commas
While I am a fan of the Oxford Comma and would urge you to always use them, the choice is ultimately yours. Whether you’re for them, against them, or believe the context matters, the point is to be consistent in your stance, opinion, and usage.
Speak Your Draft
It can be really easy to fall into the trap of feeling like your writing has to be eloquent; that’s a fast way to create boring (or confusing) drafts. Treat your first draft like a conversation (with sources, as applicable), and write in the same way you would speak. Don’t use fancy jargon that you wouldn’t use in an average conversation – the only exception being if the term is an important part of your paper or is otherwise the best way to express your statements.
Read Your Writing Out Loud
To ensure you’re writing the same way you would speak, try reading your essay out loud. Reading out loud is an easy way to determine the clarity of your paper – if a passage is difficult or awkward to say, that may be an indicator that you need to rewrite!
Reading your paper out loud can also help you find typos because you’ll become more focused on the words, rather than simply the ideas you’re trying to convey.
Librarians = Your New BFFs
Librarians, especially those on your college campus, can help you with your research. Writing center specialists can help you edit your paper. While they may not be able to help you complete your work last-minute, they can provide a lot of support through the largest essay writing challenges.
Use Wikipedia (as a launch point)
If your experience is anything like mine, your professors may have given you the “Wikipedia speech” more times than you can count. I’m not going to tell you to use Wikipedia as a source, rather, use it as a launching point to learn some general information about your topic and find other sources.
Just like the common college essay, Wikipedia articles contain sources at the bottom of the page. Those sources are available for you to start researching your topic, especially when you’re just getting started and the library databases seem daunting. Just remember, this is a launch point, you will likely need to do more of your own research as the story of your essay unfolds.