By Jacob Hallman
Today I’m going to show you how to write an academic paper quickly and effectively. This technique works great for getting 2 letter grades better in your writing assignment.
Chelsea Mandler nailed this technique even though she hadn’t been writing for 20 years.
And in this case study, I’m going to break down the approach she used to start boosting student’s grades by two letters.
Meet the hero of our story (and her one big problem)
Chelsea is the daughter of a Hollywood prop man, a free spirit from Los Angeles who was looking to polish her writing chops.
Like many extremely smart people, she didn’t have the greatest grades in school. In fact, she graduated 520 out of 540 students in her high school graduation class.
But that didn’t stop Chelsea. She wanted to become a better writer and help others too. She had always loved writing, and she knew the techniques necessary to write great content.
Breaking down her ideas into simple terms.
So in 2016, after nearly moving to Germany, pivoting to Iowa, AND nearly going bankrupt, Chelsea decided to get back to the basics.
How Chelsea upgraded her skills
Before we met, Chelsea always wanted her words to be exactly how she imagined. But that was impossible. So she did some Google searching and found my writing class on Udemy.
After 2 weeks, she started freelancing online with SimpleTense, an education organization designed for Chinese students studying in the US. When she let go of perfection and focused on excellence instead, she was able to write on nearly any subject in any genre.
A year later, Chelsea landed a job teaching writing in Des Moines, Iowa. Today, she interacts with 100s of extremely ambitious students as well as those who are barely getting by.
Their common thread? All of them want to get better at writing.
Fortunately, Chelsea gives them a safe space to become better writers. And she helps them succeed using the techniques taught in my Udemy course.
The best part?
I’m going to share those same techniques with you here.
It isn’t rocket science and many people teach it. My spin on it?
I keep it simple.
5-paragraph essays: Your favorite enemy (mine too!!!)
Most people in school know what the 5-paragraph essay looks like. And just about everyone hates it, myself included.
But writing 5-paragraph essays gives you a foundational approach for learning what to write, where to write it, and how to find your own style.
Here’s the deal:
Good writing doesn’t strictly require following form. But all good writers understand form before they start breaking the rules.
In this approach, you want to define your thesis statement (basically, your point of view) and then fill it in with supporting ideas. Instead of writing straight from the beginning to the end of the essay, you’ll define your core ideas and argument before piecing everything together at the end.
Then you can sandwich this content with an introduction and conclusion when you’re finished.
Step#1: Find great sources with pre-writing research
If form matters most, why is pre-writing research the first step?
Glad you asked!
Your research sets the tone for how strong your paper will be. So if you use Buzzfeed as your main source, that’s awesome if the fact is relevant to your overall point of view. Just consider who will be reading your paper.
If it’s an editor for Buzzfeed, great! They’ll probably love that you reference them. If it’s your teacher, they probably won’t be impressed.
(Speaking of audiences, Clifford Stumme [AKA the Pop Song Professor] offers some great ideas on respecting audiences. You can read it here.)
Good papers start with relevant sources from recognized authorities
Your sources won’t make or break your paper. But they will make at least a 1-letter grade difference in how your work gets graded. Here are some good sources to use that will meaningfully contribute to your topic:
- Google Scholar (fastest and easiest option)
- Books (Google Books)
- Academic journals
- Mainstream news publications (NY Times, Washington Post)
- Paid subscription databases (EBSCOHost, JSTOR)
- Free databases (Library Genesis, Scihub)
- A college / high school library (#1 option for quality)
Oh, and this is the truth about Wikipedia:
Avoid it unless stated otherwise. However, you can use the CITATIONS within Wikipedia articles as references. Just make sure the secondary source fits within the one of the bolded categories above and does not reference some black hole on the dark web.
If you need to cite, it’s a good idea to use the Google Scholar Button to generate citations. Bibme.org also works where the GSB will not. However, you’ll need to manually fill in the required information such as years, article titles, numbers, volumes, author names, etc.
Make a thesis statement people will talk about
You found interesting sources that are relevant to your topic and know what experts are writing about it. What angle will you take?
The answer to this question is your thesis statement. And I’m going to show you exactly how to write one.
Here’s the deal:
If your paper was a building, your thesis is the foundation. Write a hasty thesis statement and your paper will die a quick and boring death in your reader’s trash.
Write a good thesis statement and your supporting ideas/body paragraphs gain cohesiveness.
So here is the breakdown to writing thesis statements:
- They tell the reader your message in a focused and concise manner.
- They may be either argumentative—which suggests there is something to prove—or expository, which describes a subject.
- There are two basic formats to a thesis statement.
- While X is true, Y is more true.
- Because of A, B, and C, Z happens.
These aren’t the only two formats for thesis statements, but these two are simple and approachable.
Here are some examples of them in action (in color!):
You can use both formats to take an argumentative or expository angle. Can you guess which thesis statements take which angle?
- In the United States, the death penalty remains an acceptable legal option for sentencing egregious offenders of the law in thirty-two states. However, the practice has a controversial history related to the interpretation of cruel and unusual punishment as described in the 1972 Supreme Court case of Furman v. Georgia.
- As French drinking preferences shift away from wine towards beer and distilled liquors, the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux continue to produce a high-quality option for wine aficionados around the world.
- While Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton played a leading role in the development of American jazz, jazz musicians today look to the contributions made by bebop artists Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as the definitive genesis of modern jazz.
- Although the principles of Utilitarianism as described by John Stuart Mill provide consistent quantitative decisions made in the best interest of the community, Plato’s Virtue ethics provide the best strategy for success and a life well lived.
- As handheld devices become cheaper, businesses seek to operate in developing markets, and communications infrastructures stabilize, cell phone usage in Africa continues to grow.
- As the cost of living increases, wages remain stagnant, and consumers depend on forms of credit detrimental to their financial stability, the American middle class continues to decline.
Answers: (1) əʌıʇɐʇuəɯnbɹɐ (2) ʎɹoʇısodxə (3) əʌıʇɐʇuəɯnbɹɐ (4) əʌıʇɐʇuəɯnbɹɐ (5) ʎɹoʇısodxə (6) əʌıʇɐʇuəɯnbɹɐ
Again, your thesis statement needs to give your reader an excuse to keep reading. If it’s boring, they will skip the rest of your content and you’ll get a bad grade. But you read this article, so now you have the ingredients necessary to lay an awesome foundation for your paper.
Your next step is to build on it with the research you already completed.
To have great body paragraphs, make the sentences work together
In this section, I’ll show you how to write the main part of your article.
Body paragraphs function as the bulk of the essay in order to logically support the thesis. Metaphorically speaking, they represent the walls of your home.
And of course, all of it is built on the foundation of your thesis.
Here’s a visual on what this process looks like:
The breakdown for each body paragraph section is pretty straightforward:
- Topic sentence
- Sometimes referred to as a mini-thesis for its specificity, the topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph will be about.
- Background information
- Shares context concerning the body paragraph at hand. It could also explain how or why this mini-thesis correlates with the main thesis.
- The core of the paragraph. It imports essential information in the form of either a quote or paraphrase that validates the mini-thesis. It should be used sparingly.
- Nucleus interpretation
- Analyzes the nucleus and connects it with the mini-thesis. It justifies the the previous statement by answering the questions “why is this relevant?” and “how does it contribute to the argument?”
- Broad context
- The information is then placed within the broad context of the paper and related back to the thesis statement. In this way, the body paragraph is oriented with the main argument of the paper.
- Finally, the writer inserts a transition at the end of the paragraph by foreshadowing the subject material in the next body paragraph. This 6-step process repeats itself until the conclusion.
Check out some more color-coded examples:
- The debate surrounding the availability of assault rifles has returned to the forefront of public discussion.
- In 1959, two-thirds of the public supported a ban of the rifles, but by 2011, less than 43% were in support of the same measure (Toch and Maguire 1).
- According to survey research specialist Tom W. Smith, “many Americans feel that an armed citizenry makes for a safer community” (1).
- With this kind of attitude, it appears that guns in America are here to stay for the immediate future.
- As lethal weapons pervade American society, the implications seem to imply an arms race for individual citizens who want to take control of their own safety.
- However, powerful lobbies are organizing to make their anti-firearm viewpoints a part of public policy.
Make sure EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE written relates to the one before it. If it doesn’t, it lacks context and wastes your reader’s time.
Also, since this is a 5-paragraph essay approach, plan on writing 3 body paragraphs with 3 different arguments. You can add more arguments and paragraphs later on once you’ve nailed this approach.
First impressions (and introductions) count the most
Once the foundation and walls of your essay are complete, it’s time to add some doors and windows so people can see what’s inside. It’s time for your introduction!
Now, you might be thinking:
Why am I writing the introduction at the end of this process if it’s the beginning of the paper? Glad you asked!
It’s important to understand where you’re going to take the reader before you begin. Once the thesis and body paragraphs are up, it’s easier to lead your reader to those points. Otherwise, you’re more likely to write unclear content.
Now’s the time to write an awesome introduction!
Here’s how to do it (the intro, I mean):
- Introductions begin with an interesting statement to capture your reader’s attention. Some writers call this a hook. Here are some examples of how to do this:
- Ask a question (open-ended questions work best)
- Make a relatable statement
- Call out the reader for something relevant to your topic (this is the most powerful option on this list because it is an emotional trigger)
- Tell readers what you’ll give them (this is the one I used for this article)
- Add a simile or metaphor
- Offer a surprising statistic (my personal favorite)
- Build interest with specific details like time and place to give context. In a business analysis, more details might contain information about the company history and headquarters.
- Supply background terms and concepts, leading the reader to understand precisely what issue or topic the writer will address.
Together, these three approaches build energy into the last part of the introduction: the thesis statement.
In general, academic introductions start broad and get more specific as momentum builds into the thesis statement. This is exactly the opposite of what a journalist or blogger would do, which is to state the main point at the beginning.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you..
Especially at the top, DON’T BS your reader with unthoughtful content. Not even your dear mother is going to read that flaky content at the beginning. Just like a bad thesis statement, a weak introduction WILL DISCOURAGE her from reading your paper at all.
With that dire apocalyptic warning out of the way, it’s time for the last part of your essay.
Wrap up your article with a conclusion
A conclusion ends your paper and puts a roof on the house. Unless you are the second coming of J.K. Rowling, most people prefer your paper to end fast. So try to keep it quick.
- Good conclusions work backwards compared to the introduction. They begin with a paraphrase of the thesis statement that reflects the acquired learning in the body paragraphs.
- Tell the reader where you took them. Mini-theses remind the reader of the main points in the paper.
- In principle, your writing should be as objective as possible. The concluding paragraph is usually the only appropriate time to share some personal insight. So if you wrote a paper about the president and want to share your distaste for red MAGA hats, this is the place.
- The paper ends with an essential element succinctly summarizing the essay message. This is the last thing the audience will read, so make it either simple or witty.
Conclusion (for real this time)
Using these five steps, Chelsea upgraded her writing chops (which were already pretty impressive) and found work helping her students improve their writing by 2 letter grades. Our big takeaway? She took a seemingly complicated process and made it simple.
And whether you’re an aspiring writer, a student, or already a teacher yourself, you can improve your own writing chops to help others and make more interesting papers. Just start with the steps above.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Have you used any of these paper writing techniques before? Did I miss something? Leave me know either way by leaving a comment below right now.