The Dos and Don’ts of Formal Writing

In college, you’re bound to write a lot of formal papers. It’s inevitable and an essential part of coursework. While you may have been used to writing more informal papers in the past, in college, you’ll have strict guidelines that you must follow in order to get the grade you desire. Here are some do’s and don’ts of formal writing that you may want to take into consideration before turning in your next paper.

1. DO vary your sentence structure

Your reader (professor) will get tired of reading your paper if every sentence is extra lengthy or extra short. Vary the construction of your sentences (such as by using multiple clauses every now and then) to keep your paper interesting and more engaging.

2. DON’T use ‘flowery’ language

It’s a common misconception that using ‘big’ words and adding a lot of detail will instantly make any paper seem more professional and therefore appropriate for formal writing. However, it’s usually better to be more straight-to-the-point and concise. Think about it — your professor probably has hundreds of other papers to grade. They simply don’t have the time to read every single word you write.

3. DO have someone peer edit your paper

When you’re the writer of your own paper, it’s a lot harder to identify small errors (such as grammatical errors). Have a trusted friend or peer look over your paper to help you get your paper closer to perfection.

4. DON’T use first person pronouns

Some papers may require you to use first person pronouns, but more often than not, using pronouns such as ‘I,’ ‘we,’ and ‘us’ are not exactly appropriate for an academic paper. Your reader will know who is writing the paper so there’s simply no need to use these.

5. DO use proper format and citations

If your professor requires you to use MLA format, be sure to use it properly. Don’t forget all the information necessary in your header and don’t forget parenthetical citations when they are needed. A works cited page is also necessary for any paper involving research of any kind.

6. DON’T use slang

You would think that this would be an obvious one, but some students will accidentally slip up and use slang in their paper. Slang should only be found in quotations to quote someone if used at all.

Papers don’t have to be difficult or intimidating when approached correctly and done right. Follow these steps and you’ll be a step closer to that perfect grade!

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