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Helping Take Good Papers to the Next Level

If a paper is relatively strong but safe, you can work with the student on their transitions to try to make the transitions (and therefore the logic of the paper) more sophisticated. For example, get the student to summarize each paragraph in a sentence. Then, have them describe the relationship between each paragraph in a sentence (for example, by noting that a paragraph takes up an issue noted in the previous paragraph). Then you can lead the student to come up with better connecting sentences.

Check a student’s analysis and terminology. Good analysis means using evidence properly to create a reasoned argument, and connecting each part of an essay to a bigger picture. Essays that present evidence in the form of a summary or observation can be made much stronger through greater analytical depth. The student’s terminology should also be appropriately and accurately utilized during the paper.

As Gordon Harvey notes in his Elements of an Academic Essay, strong pieces of scholarship are careful to orient readers. Although this does not mean defining every term and pandering to an audience with no knowledge if the subject, it is very helpful to offer signposts for readers to understand where an essay is coming from, and where it is going. If there are underlying assumptions in an essay, they should at least be acknowledged and demarcated by orienting sections.

Harvey also mentions style as an important part of an academic essay, and style is often what can make a good paper even better. Although comments on style might be saved for more advanced students, commentary on word choice and syntax are relevant in academic essays just as much as creative writing. Harvey mentions the importance of clarity in his piece, which is vitally important for developing academic prose. Helping a student express their thoughts on a stylistic level will bolster the essays content, and likely endow the student with more confidence for future writing.

For every argument, there is a counter-argument, and if a student needs to cover more analytical ground then addressing counter-arguments is a good start. Adopting a critical approach to an essay’s assumptions and methodology will help a student look at their own thinking, as well as strengthen their rhetorical structure. Proposing counter-arguments to an essay’s arguments aid this critical process.