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Check your rubric.  The content of your paper is likely worth 50% of your grade.  Pay particular attention to your body content.

Paragraph length seems to cause students a lot of stress.  Many of you come to college used to a standard five paragraph essay.  Now it is time to break that habit.  You are writing at a higher level now.

You are not required to have three main topics.  You need as many as it takes to support your thesis.  Within each of those main topics you will need several supporting arguments (subtopics).  Each of those should be its own paragraph.  Again, there is no set number of points you need to make.  Let the research guide your presentation.

Paragraphs should be short.  One sentence to introduce a topic and two or three sentences to provide the evidence and example.  That is all. 

Consider this analogy as you assemble your paper:  When you speak you pause between thoughts to let the listener know you are transitioning.  That gives the listener an opportunity to absorb the information presented and prepare for different information.  It works the same way with paragraphs.  When you break each bit into its own paragraph, the reader understands your points in bites and knows when it is time to move on. 

Look at this group of paragraphs as an example.  There are five paragraphs on the topic of paragraphs.  The first lays out the problem and why you need a solution.  The second identifies a solution, while the third provides an example to help with understanding, the fourth gives a basic rule, and this fifth paragraph ties it all together to conclude the topic.  To help with understanding the big picture, this group of paragraphs is one of the main topics of this paper and contains several subtopics.  This group/topic is about 250 words, or 1/4 of a typical research paper requirement. 

Another common mistake of students is over use of quotes.  Many try to present their paper using a lot of quotes from secondary sources instead of actually writing it themselves.  You should be reading enough secondary sources on your subject to be able to tell a complete story in your own words.  Quoting from secondary sources, even paraphrasing, is lazy and cheating.

Quotes should be from primary sources who have something impactful to say about your subject.  If your paper is on the Seven Voyages of Zheng He, a quote from Zheng about the African giraffe would be relevant.  A quote from Zheng He about being raised Islamic in China would not.  It is off topic.  Quotes should be used to prove the points in your paper.  They should come from people who actually were involved in the events.  They give your paper depth and make the reader understand your points in a way that is memorable.

Your quotes will need citations that go back to the original book, speech, letter, etc. is not a real source.

One final note about quotes:  Quote marks do not go around ordinary words.  They go around actual quotes.  Words are just words.

Spelling and grammar often have their own section in the rubric but they are an important component of the body.  Good spelling and grammar create readability.  If the reader has to stop every sentence to figure out what you meant because you wrote it poorly, you will fail in the content.  There are several things you need to do to make sure the paper is readable.

First, deal with the red and blue lines.  We all know that not everything Word finds is wrong.  Lots of you have foreign names or words in your papers that you can’t do anything about.  You do have to check each and every one for accuracy.  In a paper about Constantine VII Flavius Porphyrogenitus’ impact on Byzantine foreign policy, you need to make sure you spell it the same every time.

If you don’t understand why the blue line is there, you can click on the grammar checker and it will explain it to you.  Once you learn that particular grammar rule, you will never get it wrong again.  It also helps you determine when Word is wrong about the blue lines.  Don’t blindly change something just because Word tells you to.  Never change a quote.

In addition to the spelling and grammar checker in Word, it is a good idea to use Grammarly.  They have a free version that finds a lot more problems than Word and it does a better job of explaining why it is a mistake.

In spite of all the checks there is still a lot of stuff that gets missed.  It is really easy to type and instead of an.  No spell checker is going to find that as a mistake.  The best solution for finding mistakes like that is to read your paper out loud.  When something is hard to read or we stumble over the wording, it is a good indicator there is something you need to fix.

Tense is past, present, future.  Make sure you are keeping things accurate.  Hannibal is not attacking Rome.  He attacked.  Almost all your writing will need to be in the past tense.

Number is making sure your subject and verb match.  They are not they is.  Riots were, not riots was.  Be sure you are modifying the right thing.  When you put a clause between the subject and verb it may seem like you need to assign number to the noun in the clause, but it has to agree with the main subject. 

Water in the fuel lines causes an engine to stall.

Agreeing with water, not lines.

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