How to Write Papers in College That Stand Out

How to Write Papers in College That Stand Out - Writing Good Papers in College that stand out

Sometimes I genuinely like to write papers in college. Sometimes. I’ve noticed that my best work is often produced when I am writing about topics I have a passion for or genuine interest in….this, however, isn’t always plausible in college. But, there are ways around this. There are so many ways to write papers in college that stand out. And, by doing so, you can also make writing papers more, dare I say it, fun! I sound like a really peppy professor who says you’re going to do something fun in class but, really, it’s not fun at all (like the infamous group project assignment). Trust me. There’s a way to make your paper really great and earn an A while having a less miserable time writing them.

Now, not every paper is an opportunity to really take the bull by the horns and express yourself. Sometimes you have to write a twelve-page paper on a philosophical concept you neither understand nor care about. It happens. BUT, that being said, even the papers you don’t want to write can be good ones that stand out in the best way. Here’s how to do it.

1. Lose the Idea that Papers Are Destined to Be Boring

Even if the topic seems boring, your paper doesn’t necessarily have to be. It’s all about finding new angles and perspectives. While I don’t always suggest taking an essay prompt and going rogue, I do suggest trying to take a fun spin or unique twist on assignments. This is especially key when professors give you vague assignments. Typically, a vague assignment is a stressful, but fun, opportunity to do something that will make you stand out.

For example, in my Shakespeare Literature course, my professor told us to pick any aspect of any play we’d read and tie it to society during that time period. This vague prompt was just asking for a fun topic. Sometimes taking the easy, popular topic can still be exciting, but when given the opportunity, try to choose something that other students likely will not have done. Choose something that you’re even a little bit excited to write about and research.

Make a list of ideas, including even the crazy and unconventional ones. Then, see which ones you can actually support with facts and evidence. Narrow down the list. Choose the unique one that you can support. Some of my ideas for this Shakespearean paper were ideas I couldn’t find enough actual evidence to support my argument with so I used the process of elimination. I ended up writing about the concept of fornication and virginity in relation to Romeo & Juliet because I could argue it well and I found it to be unique enough to stand out.

2. Choose a Topic Wisely

As I mentioned, choosing a unique topic is a great way to stand out. When you’re given a choice, try to choose something that you can prove and something that everyone else is probably not choosing. Overall, try not to take the easy route. You don’t want to be the sixth paper on a topic, it’s better to be the first.

When choosing a topic avoid sacrificing the actual integrity and accuracy of your paper. When you come up with a cool topic, make sure you can actually back that topic up with evidence before diving in. When possible, try to tie your topic to an issue or topic you’re genuinely passionate about or curious to learn more about. It makes writing the paper so much easier and it generally makes for a better final product.

3. Know Your Audience (Your Professor)

What are they expecting? Read the assignment sheet and the syllabus. Ask questions if necessary. Sometimes it can be wise to ask your professor if they think the topic you have in mind will be acceptable for an assignment. When asking, ensure you’ve got the evidence you’ll be using to support your topic. If you ask a professor if you can write about how Michelle Obama’s arms have shaped American culture, be able to say how you’ll actually prove it.

4. Take a Stance

When choosing any paper topics, it’s also crucial to take a stance. Taking a firm stance is key because the crucial part of the paper is your ability to support it. For persuasive and argumentative papers, this stance will typically be a particular side, like for or against something. For other papers, your stance will be the point you’re trying to prove or support.

You can make wild claims until the cows come home, so long as you can actually prove them. Take that stance, challenge something and back it up with evidence and facts. The key to a good paper and a truly stand-out paper is the ability to show your POV and support it with evidence. The purpose of a paper is to demonstrate not only did you learn something from the course, but also you are able to take what you learned and apply it to something else.

5. Check it for Mistakes

This doesn’t require any creativity, but it can truly make your paper stand out. At my job as a writing tutor, I have edited hundreds of papers, and the ones that stand out are the ones where I truly could not find any errors.

Ensure your grammar, punctuation and spelling are correct. Google Chrome extensions like Grammarly can be handy for checking grammar, but remember that computers aren’t always right. Extensions and apps can be shortcuts, but they still require human editing. Not every suggestion made is a correct one.

It can also be useful to have someone else read your paper. Or, if you’re alone,  one of the best ways to catch mistakes is by simply reading your paper aloud.

6. Craft a Strong Title

Generally, having a particularly good or bad title will not cost you points nor gain you points. But, a good title can really make your paper stand out in a good way. For these, I always suggest going with a pun (if appropriate) or a fun play on words. 

For example, in a Community Psychology class I analyzed my college’s housing and residential life department and if it was doing well or not. I thought it was not and I titled my paper “Housing & Residential Life: Giving Housing But Not Quite A Home.” It’s a bit more fun and it still gets my point across without being overly vague. Using a colon is always a fun way to do a witty or playful title while still grounding it with some seriousness. 

Another fun option is to use alliteration. Basically, when the words in your title begin with the same letter or sound. For example, my sociology paper about how being a woman predisposes me to body image issues and whatnot was called: “Destined for Distortion & Disturbances.” Boom! Alliteration. Again, it’s not groundbreaking but it’s certainly a bit more fun than “Sociology Paper #2.”

While you don’t need to bust out your greatest pun skills, please, for the love of God, avoid calling your paper any variation of “Global Studies Paper” or “English Essay 3” or even “My History Paper.” I have seen all of these. It is so lazy and cringeworthy. Even if you don’t want to throw in a clever title, put something. I titled my paper on sexism and racism in zombie films with “Sexism & Racism in Zombie Films.” Was it poetic and clever? No. Was it good enough? Yes. Pull the main point or a key term from your paper and boom! A title is born. It may not be a great one, but it is certainly better than the aforementioned ones.

7. Sharpen the Structure

Oftentimes students I tutor will ask me if their papers “flow.” Namely, while reading, is the paper organized in a way that both makes sense and is easy to read? The easiest way to fix this is often by creating a paper outline. If your paper is already written but still has structural issues, create a blank document. Go through the original paper and move paragraphs into the new document in an order that makes sense.

While also strengthening that structure, check for places where you might’ve been very repetitious. Cut those down.

8. Fix the Format

Again, sometimes not having basic mistakes is an easy way to write papers in college that stand out. You’d be surprised how many students disregard format guidelines. Check the syllabus! Check Owl Purdue. Having the incorrect APA or MLA or even Chicago format will make your paper stand out in a bad way. Having on point citations and format will give you a small leg up.

Related Read: How to Write Good Papers in College

What have been some of your favorite papers to write?

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  • Great post!! I definitely agree with the second point – I’ve found it’s much easier to write about a less popular topic because it’s much more likely to be appreciated by my professor and less likely to be redundant.

    • Thanks Katrina! I totally agree, I always have more fun, too, when I feel like I’m making a big move with a bold paper topic haha

  • Awesome post! I agree that it’s so important to choose something that you’re excited to research and write about – it always seems to make getting work done that little bit more enjoyable and I find the things I learnt during the process seem to stay in my brain a bit better, haha. x

    • Thanks Alysha! I totally agree, I’ve retained so many little fun facts and cool details about the beauty industry’s history from a paper I wrote four years ago haha

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