Writing Center Director Offers Tips on How to Write Better — and Stress Less

Rowdy the River Hawk gets help on his final paper at The Writing Center. Image by J. Gambon
Rowdy always goes to The Writing Center for help with his final papers.

By Katharine Webster

Panicked about that final paper? The Writing Center on South Campus offers individualized help with writing, from the first germ of an idea to citing sources and revising.

The center, located on the third floor of O’Leary Library, has up to four faculty-trained student tutors available on weekdays, as well as two faculty tutors who work with graduate students. (The Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services also has writing tutors on North Campus.) They can take some of the stress out of writing that end-of-term paper, whether it’s five pages or 15. Just book an appointment online: https://www.uml.edu/Writing-Center/.

Can’t get an appointment at a time that suits you? Never fear. Writing Center Director Mary Gormley shares some of her tried-and-true techniques for making your writing better — and the end of the semester less hectic.

  • Start early, preferably as soon as you get the assignment, and work on your paper in stages, balancing it with your other work.
  • Make sure you understand the assignment. In exams, you’re mostly expected to show what you know. In papers, the professor usually expects you to go beyond summary or reflection and make an argument. If in doubt, talk to or e-mail the professor, or discuss the assignment with classmates. Underline key terms like “analyze” in the assignment or the rubric.
  • Find a prewriting activity that works for you, whether that’s outlining, making a list or drawing up a storyboard. Freewriting works, too: Just jot down your main ideas or write down everything you know and what you think about the topic. Then go back and figure out how to organize it.
  • Start writing your first draft. When you get stuck, move on to another point. If you get really stuck, take a break from writing and do something completely different. Don’t be afraid to write out of order: Sometimes the best introduction is written after the rest of your paper is finished.
  • If your paper involves research and outside sources, make sure you include your citations and attribute your quotes as part of the writing process. Don’t wait until later to plug them in.
  • Check your first draft against the assignment to make sure you’ve done what the professor asked. Figure out where you need to elaborate or back up your claims, and then rewrite.
  • Revise. Here are some suggestions for making your paper better by getting some perspective and distance.
  1. Ask someone else to read your draft, or read it aloud to someone, and then ask them what the main ideas are. Use their feedback to clarify and support your argument.
  2. Read your draft aloud for fluidity, pace, repetition and comprehension. If you’re stumbling, your reader will, too.
  3. Print your draft out, double- or triple-spaced, and mark it up with a pencil.
  4. Take a break from the paper and work on something completely different. Go for a walk or grab a snack. Check Facebook, Instagram or your text messages now—not while you’re writing. Come back to your paper fresh, and revise.
  • Once you’re satisfied with the content, do a final revision for spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • You’re done!