So as a college student, I write a lot of papers (and I mean a lot!) I've technically been writing college papers for five years now so I've learned a few tricks and tools when I work with vocabulary that I'd like to pass along. I've had professors give me handouts on their" do's and don'ts". I've included the best of them. Some of these may work for you, some of these may not. Take or leave what you want.
- When I am writing a paper I always have open on my web browser dictionary.reference.com
Why? Because sometimes I want to check that I am using a word correctly. The slightest misspelling can change the meaning of a word to something totally different and you don't want to have point deducted from a paper for something that is easily corrected. If you are even slightly unsure, check it! You can even check on the speaker button so it says the word out loud and you can compare it to the word you are trying to spell.
Another reason is the thesaurus button at the top. This is a great tool to vary your language within a paper. Professors hate it when you use the same word over and over. It's boring to read. Not to mention it shows maturity when you can vary your vocabulary. Just make sure you are using the correct type of speech (verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc.) to replace your synonym.
A cool feature of thesaurus.com is the antonym list. Sometimes you need a word of a opposite meaning to get your meaning across and this lists tons of options!
- I'm very careful of Microsoft Word's Dictionary
Microsoft has lots of spelling errors and is not always correct. It depends on how bad you misspell a word. It also a lot of times does not take into account proper nouns, foreign words, names, etc. Unless you are online the thesaurus does not work as well either.
- If I have a words that are spelled weird, but I know are correct, I double check them.
What I mean is this: sometimes I have complex, long terms that I know are right because of a textbook, but my dictionary says otherwise. I make sure I type them correctly into my document and then add it into my dictionary in Microsoft that way if I mistype it in the future the program will let me know. I've made the mistake of doubting myself or not adding the work and misspelled it later on in a long paper. BIG MISTAKE.
- In formal papers, spell out contractions.
This is a rule of thumb. I do it in all my papers by habit now. It sounds more professional and it is proper English. Some professors will tear you apart for not doing this.
- Get a good English Textbook.
I personally use the Little Brown Handbook, 11th Ed. Certain formats (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) call for certain wording, grammar, and formatting. They outline all the grammar and vocabulary rules that you need to know when writing a paper. I always keep mine handy. Think of it as the Bible for Writing.
- That and Which
One of my professors and a major pet-peeve about this. We got major points deducted for this error. We tend to use that and which in our papers when we don't need too. Read your sentence without the word and if you don't need it then delete it! You're probably using it incorrectly a majority of the time.
I read a ton of my peer's paper's and I can't tell you how many college student's still get this wrong! They're is a contraction for they are. Say it whenever you are proofreading. If it doesn't make sense then it is one of the other two forms. Their shows ownership of something. Ex. They went back to their house. Hint: it usually precedes a noun. There is usually a place. Ex. Yea, let's go there! For more information and exceptions, see your English textbook.
- Don't use slang
This should be a given, but it's not. Words like yo, ya'll, ya know, and all curse words are unacceptable in papers and communication with professors. It is unprofessional and will not make your teacher happy. Write like you speaking to President of the United States. Proper, clean, and professional is how your papers should sound.