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The vast majority of college courses emphasize writing skills, and most professors require academic writing as a part of their courses, no matter what the subject. Collegiate writing differs from high school writing, and many college students face a steep learning curve when first entering college. A solid college paper involves five key steps: quality research, outline, introductory and concluding paragraphs, effective writing and proofreading.

The biggest complaint of college professors is that students do not conduct research using quality sources. While most college-aged students get their information and news from unreliable sources like Wikipedia and general internet sources, an academic paper must be based on recent, reliable sources. Students should look for information in academic journals, published papers, books and websites that end in “.gov” or “.edu.” A college librarian is likely the best source of help in finding the right sources. The best resources are from quality sources and not more than ten years old.

Once substantial research has been conducted, students should develop an outline to guide them in their writing, so their work stays on-topic and organized. The first piece to develop is a thesis sentence, which is a single sentence that summarizes the main point of the paper. For example, a paper on the topic of autism may have a thesis sentence that outlines the paper’s main points: the history of Autism, clinical diagnosis, prevalence and causes. Then, a student can develop the rest of the outline be creating topic sentences, or starting sentences, for each paragraph in the paper. As the student begins to write the paper, he should first write the introductory and concluding paragraph.

Effective college-level writing follows a set of writing guidelines. Writers should understand and use the appropriate style for their subject, which may be APA style, Chicago style, MLA style or others. The style plays the largest role in the use of citations and quotes, but it also affects grammar and punctuation. Plagiarism is rampant in colleges and has serious consequences; any ideas or direct quotes from other authors need to be appropriately cited. Students should also carefully review their work to ensure that it does not contain grammatical or spelling errors. Often, reading the paper aloud, reviewing the paper a day or more after writing it and seek proofreading assistance from personal or professional sources can be the best way to review.

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