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Skidmore College
Student Academic Services Tips


TIPS: Study Skills and Strategies

How to Write Critically

  • Once you have completed reading and note-taking on the required material, re-read and analyze the writing assignment. Often a potential step-by-step structure of a paper will be signaled by the professor, and understanding and de-coding this is key.
  • Meet with the professor to discuss questions on the assignment and a possible thesis or outline in a timely fashion, providing sufficient time for your thoughtful work and revision prior to submission.
  • Assignments may assume awareness of other texts, or of social or cultural knowledge that you will need to pursue. Be certain you have collected any relevant background information essential for a complete understanding before you start.
  • Outline to prepare a solid foundation for a paper. Then begin a first draft. Let it sit for a few hours or a day or two (as time permits), then return to it. Re-read the entire draft before making any decisions at all; then review the paper, choosing the main areas to focus on.
  • Question yourself: Is this saying what I meant to say? will this be clear to a reader? Add commentary in the margins to help you find responsive ideas and solutions.
  • Work to clarify general principles of organization and argument as they relate to your thesis. Is that thesis stated clearly early on? Is each paragraph built on one main idea, one main point that supports the thesis?
  • Does each paragraph include an opening transitional sentence and a concluding sentence that refers back to the thesis? Are the sentences in each paragraph connected to each other and arranged so that the main point is clearly and logically developed? Is the main idea of each paragraph supported by details—facts, examples, evidence? Do you introduce and explain directly quoted or paraphrased material, and relate each quote back to the thesis? Are the introductory and concluding paragraphs sufficiently developed?
  • Review your formatting: Check to see that you have the required number of pages, a bibliography or works cited if necessary, look for the use of "I" in the voice of the paper (will this be acceptable?) and be certain the paper addresses its central purpose: argumentative, persuasive, or comparison/contrast, for example.
  • Check for sentence clarity. How are your structures? Read aloud and see.
  • Editing and grammar: Look at past papers your professors have graded and see where they have made suggestions; this will help you look for errors on this draft.
  • If you are lucky enough to be presented with a revision process, review all of the professor's suggestions (and the assignment, once more) so that the work really reflects his or her expectations. If your professor is willing and has papers from previous classes, ask for them and read examples of good papers.
  • Work toward being in control of the full process. Keep a writing notebook of vocabulary to learn, general idioms, and familiar grammatical traps. Also keep comments on the things you are doing right—creativity, good organization, anything that professors have each noted, so you can move your writing forward with confidence.