Michael Scott once said, "Sometimes I'll start a sentence, and I don't even know where it's going. I just hope I find it along the way. Like an improv conversation. An improversation." (The Office, S5:E11) Too often, that’s how we write sentences, paragraphs, and even entire papers. Then we wonder why professors mark our papers with lots of red ink and feedback like, "confusing," "unclear," "develop more," "too vague," or the real killer: "What??"
The problem is simple, and the fix is equally as simple. So simple, in fact, that we bypass it without realizing.
It’s so simple that it may be a little offensive, but it’s just human nature. We all want the best result while doing the least amount of work. I get that; I’m in school too. But if you follow these simple steps, you’ll actually get both of the things you want: a better end result for your paper, and less work. Yes, less work. If you do this work before writing the paper, you’ll actually find it easier to write your paper.
Look at that handy prompt from your professor, re-read the syllabus, and check the rubric. What exactly do you need to write about? What question or topic does your paper need to address? What must be said?
Decide what you as an individual think about the question or the topic. What do you think is the most important and most specific thing that you can say? Can you say it in one sentence? (If you do a good job here, you’ll have a thesis for your paper!)
Research, read, and think. Who else has tried to answer this question or discuss this topic? What did they say? Was it good or bad, and why? Can you improve what they said? (By the way, we can help you incorporate your research or cite your research.)
Make every word count toward the goal. Remember steps 1 and 2: What’s the question you must answer and what exactly do you want to say? Constantly ask yourself, “Does this sentence answer that question? Does this paragraph? Does this section?” It’s easy to lose track along the way and keep writing just because you need another page. Are you making an “improversation,” or are you making the strongest, clearest argument that you can make?
Be better than Michael Scott. Know what you need to say, know what you want to say, and say it well. Good luck!