Tag Archives: final paper
Whether you’re in undergrad, graduate school, or even post-graduate study, at some point or another, you’ll end up in a course you can’t stand. For whatever reason, you just hate this class– it could be your professor, your fellow students, the course topic, the readings, or even the classroom itself that sucks. Regardless of why it’s awful, you still have to suffer through it and, worse yet, you’ll still have to write a final paper for it.
As I explained in a previous blog post, the goal of a final paper is to demonstrate your full grasp and knowledge of the course and its content to the professor. So, to get over this hatred hump and on your way to writing this dreaded assignment, start thinking of how this course relates to your focus of study, as a whole: how does this course fit into your major or concentration? Graduate students, I’m especially looking at you. If you’re an undergraduate student within a specialized concentration, the same applies to you as well. What outside information can you bring into this class? Are there any overarching themes that can be drawn from other classes you’ve taken within your major track or course of study?
If you’re taking this only because it’s a requirement for your major or, even worse, as a general degree requirement, then consider what stuck out most to you during the class– what interested you the most out of the material? Maybe it was a particular reading or lecture topic that caught your attention, or an idea that has permeated the course material and throughout the course itself. What did you like most and, therefore, can talk about for pages on end?
If you have truly gained nothing out of this course and can’t think of a single thing you liked about it, then go with what you know– what did you understand best out of all the material? What can you explain to the best of your ability?
Ask yourself these questions as part of a bit of self-assessment and carefully consider your answers. If you’re having a bit of trouble coming up with viable answers and ideas, do some free-writing to get yourself going. Appropriate topics come from these considerations; ideas surrounding the arc of the course as well as what you can personally relate to within the material are fodder for good papers.
Of course, if you’re still stuck, talk to your professor or, at the very least, your TA; naturally, they can give you some of the best insight into what they’re looking for. Or, talk to your classmates. Discuss with them what they aim to write their papers about and use that as inspiration. (But, their ideas are meant only as inspiration for your own! Don’t ever, ever cheat.)
Continue to brainstorm and to mull over these concepts until you find a thesis idea you’re comfortable enough with that your professor will want to read and, most importantly, you can write about for pages on end. Remember, your end-goal is to show your full grasp and understanding of the arc of the course. So, taking all this into account and delving into the connections and ties made within the course would fulfill your professor’s expectations or perhaps even go above and beyond them– possibly amounting to some serious brownie points.
Paragraphs are incredibly important– whether you’re writing a short response paper or an epic long dissertation, you need them.
Without them, your writing will seem like a long, unedited diatribe– endless lines of unorganized information that will lose your readers and your professor.
In order to fully understand what paragraphs are and how to fully use them, it’s helpful if you think of them in the following ways:
– Paragraphs are units of composition.
Think of each paragraph as a separate unit, an individual nugget or dose of information. Each new bit of information should be showcased to your reader, separately. This helps you, the writer, separate your topics and develop your overall argument in a logical and organized fashion. For the reader, your argument is more digestible and easier to read.
So, with that said…
– Paragraphs should always introduce a new idea.
Whether you are subdividing a topic at hand or introducing an entirely different topic, paragraphs should contain new, unique, pieces of information that are parts of a cohesive whole.
Some examples where your paper should have a natural paragraph break are:
– when there is a change in setting or time (such as discussing periods in history or different geographical locations)
– when you are citing and explaining a specific case as an example, or
– when you are presenting an additional argument or counter-argument
– in introduction of a set of new arguments/topics or in conclusion or them, or of your paper.
– Paragraphs should begin with topic sentences.
In order to fully accomplish what I said above, each paragraph should state its new topic within the first two sentences. By doing so, your reader will understand that you are transitioning from the previous topic to the next, how you’re doing so and why. You would also be preparing your reader (and your professor) for what you will be outlining further in the paragraph and throughout your argument as a whole.
Using transitional words or phrases are a good start. Here are a few examples:
– Adding information: Also, as well, besides
– Comparing ideas: Likewise, similarly
– Contrasting ideas: At the same time, conversely, even so, in contrast, nevertheless,
– Using an example: For example, for instance, in other words, specifically,
– Continuing a previous idea: Later, meanwhile, next, subsequently, then
– Following from a previous idea: accordingly, as a result, consequently, as such, therefore, thus
– Concluding ideas: Finally, in short, in summary, that is, that is to say, to sum up.
Final papers are rarely fun assignments. This much is true.
But, it doesn’t have to be so painful to pick a final thesis topic.
Professors typically assign final papers to round out their syllabi and to give more chances to make up for missed assignments and midterm exams. But, most importantly, they do so to get a full grasp of what you have learned and truly gleaned from their course. It goes beyond making sure that you did the readings and paid attention to lecture; it’s to see if you, as a student, really understand what the class was about, why the course is important and how that is. Basically, your professor wants to see that you really understand the coursework, curriculum, and, really, the whole point of the class.
You should see right away why the above should be considered first and foremost when thinking of possible thesis topics: your paper should address what your professor is looking for. Of course, don’t confuse this with just regurgitating notes from lecture and the reading; you have to show that you’ve truly digested the material and understand it.
First, evaluate the curriculum and what was covered during the course. Think as broadly as possible, and look for themes that run through the entirety of the curriculum; what kind of connections can you make between all the readings assigned and the main points of lecture? These themes and connections– the scope of the course– are the “meat and potatoes”, if you will, of what your thesis should be about or, at the very least, should resonate with your professor when reading it.
Regardless of what your topic ends up being, be sure to incorporate these themes into your work. Not only will it make your professor happy, but it will also make your paper that much more comprehensive and well-rounded.