Although misguided, young Calvin below makes some interesting points, specifically about what a graduate thesis looks like. Whether you are writing a graduate thesis or a first-year composition paper, you must follow certain formats and style (which may vary, depending on your professor) to make your paper look clean and professional.
Tip 1: Read your assignment guidelines to find out which style to use! I cannot stress this enough. MLA, APA, Chicago, and others all have a unique style and format to follow. If you choose the wrong one, your paper will still look good but will not be the correct fit. It would be the equivalent of wearing a tuxedo to a swimming meet, or a ball gown to a job interview.
Tip 2: Now that you know what style to write in, make sure you write in that style! If unsure on all the rules and regulations, visit your local writing studio or do some research online. A fantastic site for such questions is the Purdue Owl, which covers MLA, APA, and you guessed it, Chicago. Important note: style does not only mean citations. Headings, title/cover page, page numbers, spacing, font, etc., all of these can be affected by whatever style your professor has assigned.
Tip 3: Speaking of fonts, please use a non-irritating font and a reasonable font size. The standard is Times New Roman, size 12. Personally, I suggest that you always use Times New Roman, size 12. Don’t be cute. And don’t try to hit the page count by making your font larger or margins smaller. Professors read hundreds of papers a semester and will know when something doesn’t look write, no matter how sneaky you are. If you absolutely despise Times New Roman, serif fonts are deemed acceptable. As always, read your syllabus to see if your professor has a preference or has banned any outlaw fonts like Jokerman.
Tip 4: Nothing screams amateur as much as a glaring typo. Proofread your work. Proofread your emails. Proofread your texts, twitters, snapchats, everything. Sure, we are human. We make misteaks. But when a professor sees that you wrote dime store instead of dinosaur, they may view you as lazy, or might think that you rushed through the assignment. Read your paper out loud. Read your paper backwards sentence by sentence. Have a friend read the paper. Say it with me now. No more dime stores! Make dime stores extinct! As for grammatical and punctuation errors, check out The Writing Commons, and the wide variety of information they offer.
Tip 5: You may have noticed that I’ve been using exclamation points and bold lettering. What’s that old saying? “Do as I say, not as I do.” Yeah, that. Don’t use exclamation points. Don’t bold words. Don’t write in ALL CAPS. DOESN’T THIS FEEL LIKE I’M YELLING? DOESN’T IT LOOK UNPROFESH? Also, do not abbreviate words or use slang. Spell it out. Do not be unprofessional. Many professors will also tell you not to use contractions, which means, don’t use can’t and won’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t, etc.
To conclude, I would like to say that your professor or instructor trumps all. Always follow the professor’s guidelines. Keep in mind, errors of sloppiness can greatly alter how your professor reads and responds to your paper. Don’t anger the beast. And beware the frumious Bandersnatch. The simpler and cleaner your paper looks, the better.
My last metaphor of wisdom: beauty is only skin deep. Skin covers up the meat and bones and blood, which can be unsettling if seen. However, without all that chunky stuff inside, skin is just a loose and raggedy bag. You still must write content, cite your scholarly sources, and make intellectual/stimulating arguments. Content is not style. You can write a great paper that looks sloppy, but you can also write an awful paper that looks fantastic. Both are poor choices.
Let’s see how it worked out for our boy, Calvin.