May 22, 2024

Three Steps to Writing Better Student College Papers

Author: Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

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Weekly writing assignments are often a daunting experience for online students, who may range in age from 22 to 72. They are usually working adults with families, maybe active duty or retired military, truck drivers, first responders or even dental hygienists. Here are three tips to help online students write better papers and improve their grades.

Tip One: Follow the Rubric

In fact, it was a dental hygienist who told me recently that when she was in college, she followed the rubric when writing her papers. She said her professor insisted that if you studied the grading rubric for writing papers, you had a good chance of getting an A.

Rubrics can vary for different courses and for different course numbers. The higher the course number, the more demanding the grading rubric for excellence.

All college papers are graded on some variation of the following five characteristics:

  • Focus (thesis)
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Organization of ideas or format
  • Writing conventions (grammar and use of references)
  • Proper use of computer technology

Another key to success is to follow all instructions. That includes the number of pages required, including cover and reference pages. Also adhering to the proper type font and size, and line spacing between sentences and paragraphs.

My dental hygienist said that when the instructions required a three-page paper, that is what she delivered. She knew of some students who would turn in a nine- or 10-page paper and receive a failing grade for not following the basic instructions.

Tip Two: Keep the ‘I’ Out

Many college papers require that you to write in the third person. These papers are most likely factual and descriptive in nature — a case study of some issue, such as a major oil spill that affected the community; how to design a functioning warehouse; or a critique of a failing retail distribution company.

The proper paper should be a professional work, often an alien concept to many online students. Third person does not mean writing yourself, “I,” into the paper. But keeping the “I” out of a student paper can be difficult.

After all, the paper is your perception, your voice and view of topic. You want the instructor to know that the facts and information, the problem statement and possible solution all come from you.

If you have difficulty writing a paper without lapsing into the first-person “I,” read and study what others have written on your topic. You will know how to alter “I found that the tea company failed to have a proper supply chain,” to “The facts suggest a possible failure of the tea company’s supply chain.”

The focus of the paper is the case study or the problem at hand based on the facts and information presented in your research. Let them write the story with your help.

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Tip Three: Learn Simple Citation and Reference Formats

College papers are a demonstration that you can read someone else’s words and interpret them to make sense; you can form facts from the information presented. Instructors can provide a wealth of information on various writing styles such as the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA), but often the student may see this wealth of “how to” as mysterious and confusing.

Writing Well Can Enhance a Student’s College Career

By following these three steps you will feel more adept at the writing process. As a result, you will write better college papers and receive higher grades.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.

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