Last month, Professor Randy gave his first four tips on how to get an A on your paper, and Michael introduced styles in Microsoft Word. They continue their Fall article series in this newsletter.
Writing Your Paper Well
by Professor Randy
Last month, we looked at the first phase of the writing process: Preparing to Write Well. This is often the most important phase as it sets a trajectory for the rest of the paper. The four tips for preparing to write well are: 1) write when your mind is fresh; 2) know the purpose of your paper; 3) develop an outline and 4) research and organize your ideas. My focus in this newsletter and the next one is on "Writing Your Paper Well" (in the fourth part of this series, I will discuss how to edit your paper well). Here are some tips to help you write your paper with excellence:
Tip #5 - Understand Your Purpose and Make it Central
Every paper must have a strong purpose (some call it a thesis). For some papers, your professor will define that purpose for you in the assignment instructions (if you do not understand what your professor wants, make sure you ask questions so that you clearly understand the purpose of the assignment). In some instances, your professor will give you freedom to design a paper around your own purpose (if in doubt about the suitability of your proposed purpose, ask your professor if it is okay). In your opening paragraph, make sure that you clearly state the purpose of the paper and how the various pieces of the paper will serve that purpose (if you have already developed an outline for the paper, this process will be easier - see tip #3 in my previous article). Then, make sure that every paragraph and sentence contributes to fulfilling that purpose.
Tip #6 - Use Headings to Organize Your Paper
I often suggest to my students that meaningful and well-placed headings help the reader to follow the flow of a paper. Again, with an outline in place, you can readily create headings that follow that outline. It is often useful to have headings to introduce sections that are between one to three paragraphs in length. At the end of each section, make sure you include a transitional sentence (or paragraph for major sections) that naturally eases the reader into the next section.
If you follow these tips, you will be well under way to writing an A paper. Next month, I will share some tips about integrating sources into your papers.
Writing in style (Part 2 of 4)
by Michael Hu
Have you ever tried creating a table a contents in Word? I remember my 4th year engineering project, a 200 page report on the communications systems we designed for a robot. The table of contents was a pain, because every time we revised our report, the page numbers for the headings were off by a page or two. And when the table of contents spilled over to two pages, I had to increment every table of contents entry by a page number and then manually check them all over again - very annoying.
Generating a table of contents
What I wish I knew at the time is Microsoft Word can auto-generate a table of contents for you! The process is simple, but ingenious, if you know how. First, insert headings into your document, and then style them as Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, or Heading 4 to give you four levels of nested headings; refer to the previous article to see how. Now, click the Table of Contents button to insert it at the cursor location, as shown in Figure 1. When you want to update the page numbers, click the button circled in red.
Figure 1: Inserting a Table of Contents
The Table of Contents feature illustrates why styles are so powerful: they give meaning to a block of text apart from its formatting. For instance, just because you bold some text does not mean that it should be identified as a heading; text can be bolded for other reasons. But if you style that text as Heading 3, and then modify that style to be bold, then you will get headings that look the way you want, and give enough information to Microsoft Word for it to generate a table of contents for you.
But we're not done with styles yet! Next month, I'll show you how to use styles to cross-reference figures, tables, and headings.