It's the night before the six-page double-spaced 12-pt. Times New Roman essay is due. The cold sweat on your brow glistens from the light of your desktop lamp. An empty sleeve of Oreos reflects the state of your empty head, and the chocolatey crumbs cascade like a rockslide of shame down the front of your shirt, and nestle in the small valley created by the fold in your unwashed sweatpants. You haven't bathed in days, unless bathing in your tears counts. Is this some cruel torture chamber designed to deprave you of the one thing you still have intact: your very humanity?
No. It's midterm week.
Everyone has been in this situation before. Perhaps you are in it now. I've been around the block a few times myself, and I've learned a few things along the way. I've drawn knowledge from all levels of academia, from the all-knowing professor to the TA that can see in four dimensions, and even the omnipotent, great-and-mighty MLA guidebook. All professors will have different criteria for their papers, so I've compiled a general list of all of them, just to make it easy for you. Here are seven great tips for writing the perfect college-level essay.
1. Have an opinion. But also, don't!
Nothing is more important than bringing what you have to say to the table of academia. That's why everything you think is wrong! Unless you've gone to school for as long as your teacher, everything you have to say is invalid, because you are a dumb idiot. Remember that science is all about agreeing with what everyone else has to say, so restate the professor's opinion in your own words for the best result. Professors love it when people affirm their beliefs.
2. Voicing. Make the paper sound like 'you', but at the same time not you at all.
A paper is only readable if it has a voice. Just think of the greats-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury. They all had distinct writing styles, and as a result are some of the most famous authors of all time. Make your paper distinctly 'you' (as long as 'you' sounds like the professor.) Just like Ray Bradbury, you must conform to the norms of academia in order to be a successful writer.
3. Cite your sources! Well, the approved ones anyway.
You can make claims all day long, but without sources they're just that-- claims. Sources are the backbone upon which a good paper is built. That's why it is of paramount importance to support the professor's thesis with the best sources that your professor provides. Try citing the 200$ textbook you had to buy for the class. What better way to support what the professor said than to quote his writings? That's definitely not circular reasoning!
4. Sound academic! Also, be conversational! Because academics are conversational, right?
This one is pretty self-explanatory. There is no one you would rather listen to than your professor. His oratory skills surpass Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and even Aragorn. You probably wish there was an audiotape of him reading the dictionary that you could listen to as you went about your daily activities. That's why you should write like your professor talks. A 1700s British aristocrat who carries around a pocket thesaurus.
5. Balance. Present both sides, like the one they give you and the wrong one.
When Moses came down the mountain with the stone tablets, there was actually one more commandment that has since been lost in translation. It went something like this:
"Thou shalt worship thy professors in all that thou doeth, lest the wrath of a thousand suns consume you."
So, in short, agree with them always because they always know best, because they said that they do. When a professor says "Present a balanced argument", they really mean "I AM THE BALANCE, I AM JUSTICE, I AM DEATH, THE GREAT MEDIATOR OF MORTAL SOULS, KNEEL BEFORE MY MIGHT". Be sure to keep that in mind.
6. No contractions or colloquialisms, because everyone hates papers that are interesting and fun to read.
Have you ever read a well-written narrative of some inspirational event, perhaps a war story or an account of man on a journey to reunite with his family? Have you ever read an autobiography, or an opinion editorial, or a novel or a movie script?
How awful, right?
Everything that doesn't come from an academic peer-reviewed science journal sucks eggs, and basically we should burn all the books in the country that weren't written by professors. People hate being entertained when they read. This explains the massive failure that was the Harry Potter series. When you write, make the material so dry that the desert would be jealous. Write so dry that the throat of an out-of-state visitor to Utah would feel quenched. Write so dry that BYU's sobriety policy would turn to the bottle out of grief.
7. Never, EVER, write about something that interests you.
The last rule for good college writing is to never write about things that interest you. Do you love studying women's rights in developing third world countries? Great! Write about carpet cleaning businesses in Seattle. Are you fascinated by the history of film? Awesome! Write about the type of rock used in the construction of the Ohio State Capitol Building. (It's Columbus limestone.)
Writing about your passions will only lead to opinions, and we've already discussed how simply awful those are. Throughout any paper you write, remain entirely disinterested. If you begin formulating opinions, change subjects immediately. A good mantra to repeat to yourself as you lie curled in a ball weeping under your desk is "The Less You Care, the Better You'll Fare".
I hope my seven tips helped you out. Good luck on your next essay!