Academic Resources

How to Earn a Top Grade on Written Assignments

1.    Observe Formatting Requirements. Make sure to observe the page length requirements.  Remember the page requirement does not include the Title page and/or Reference Page.  In other words, the first page that ‘counts’ is not the Title Page, but the page on which the paper begins.  Likewise, the last page is where the writing of sentences/paragraphs ends—not the Reference page.  Make sure to double-spacing throughout the paper.  Do not triple (or quadruple) space. 

2.    Do NOT Submit in PDF format.  The format should be submitted as a Word document (.doc) or Rich Text Format document (.rtf).  Documents submitted in PDF format might be converted into a Word or RTF file prior to grading and changes in format can occur upon conversion.

3.    Avoid Using Poor Sources/Using Too Few Sources.  Make sure to use plenty of scholarly sources.  Avoid relying mostly on web resources and/or not including enough sources.

4.    Do NOT Write on an Improper Subject. Make sure you are actually addressing the topics or issue that the project requires you to address.  Some students submit excellent papers written on subject that are not relevant to the assignment criteria.   Even if you submit a high-quality, scholarly paper, if the topic of your paper is not related to the assignment, then you will not earn a top grade.

5.    Avoid Carelessness in Grammar/Writing.  Avoid spelling errors and the use of contractions. Do not use “Don’t.” Instead of “Haven’t” write “have not.”  Instead of “Can’t” write “can not.” Typographical errors, run-on sentences, sentence fragments and the like will result in a lower grade.  

6.    Avoid Using 1st and 2nd person. In formal writing, avoid the following words---I, me, you, your, us, we, our, ourselves—etc. Instead of writing ‘We all desire an afterlife’ write ‘All people desire an afterlife.’  Instead of ‘We can’t follow perfection’ write ‘One cannot follow perfection.’  Instead of writing ‘You won’t see evidence for that’ write ‘Evidence for such declarations seems absent.’

7.    Avoid superficial, generalized, and shallow content that does not demonstrate deep critical thinking or analysis. Do not write a “general overview” or summary outline about your topic.  Rather, demonstrate deeper analysis such as comparison/contrast and other types of critical thinking that focuses on the strengths/weaknesses of various claims in your paper.

8.    Make sure to include Citations.  It is not possible to write a successful college-level paper without proper use of citations.  Writing even a short 1-2 page essay without incorporating a single citation does not express proper research methods. Footnotes are not needed; however, the use of proper in-text citation is necessary for a high grade. Further, if you did not think of something completely yourself—in other words, the idea came from your reading/research—then do not leave the reader with the impression that it did.  Writing an entire paragraph with multiple specific concepts about a particular idea without citation implies that this is either ‘general knowledge’ (like the Sun is the center of our galaxy) or is information that did not originate or depend on others.  Failing to use proper citation often borders and/or crosses over into plagiarism.

9.    Do Not Forget the Title Page and Reference Page. Every college-level paper should include a Title Page as well as a Reference Page. 

10.    Avoid lengthy block quotes.  In short papers, no more than 1-2 paragraph-length block quotes are acceptable. Block quotes should never been more than a few sentences and certainly should not be half of the page or more.  A block quote is used when an authority/writer expresses an idea powerfully and memorably and the paper would be seriously deficient or lessened without it.  But it is only a poor writer who depends upon block quotes to ‘meet’ the page requirement. 

Critical Thinking Resources
Valid and Sound Arguments (PDF)

Citation Resources
Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)