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March 07, 2005

Advice on Paper Writing

What is the one piece of advice on paper writing that I should give to these Berkeley undergraduates?

The ones coming in for advice aren't the ones who really need it. The ones coming in to talk to me about their papers are, broadly, in the top quarter of the papers we received. And these were very short papers: three pages on the role of economic grievances in the American Revolution.

The typical easy-to-correct mistakes that the students who come to see me are making seem to be two:

  1. Nobody ever told them--or they have forgotten, or they are too stressed for time--to revise. They are handing in first drafts.

  2. Nobody ever told them that if you are going to hand in a first draft, an easy way to significantly improve it is to, when you are finished, cut the last paragraph from the paper and paste it at the beginning. Your final sum-up paragraph--written at the end, as you have by trying to write down what you think discovered what you really do think--is almost always going to make a better first paragraph than the first paragraph that you wrote.

Posted by DeLong at March 7, 2005 10:44 PM