How to BS Your Way Through a College Paper

Three Methods:Prepare to WorkStrategies for WritingCitation-based Cheats

It is a familiar situation to many college students: A major paper is due in a few hours and you have not even started! Not to fear! Follow these easy steps and hopefully you will bluff your way to academic salvation.

Method 1
Prepare to Work

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    Do not panic. Getting wildly emotional at this point will not help you. You will plan your college paper with better preparation next time. For the moment, you need to avoid dwelling on what you should have done and focus on what can be done now. Stay positive, prepare to work hard, and be determined to finish this job.
    • Having to write last-minute is not always a failure of planning. For example, if you are having to work long hours at your job as a college student, your boss may not care that you take college classes. But neither does your professor.
    • Do not expand the work in your mind. Typically, writing a college paper is not writing a novel. For example, most college papers and most high school papers require double spacing, so take the number of pages required and divide it by two. That is the actual amount of work that you actually have to do, and it should feel much less intimidating.
    • Some people tend to write better on "last-minute panic". While this is not the advised way to write, it is certainly possible to write well under these conditions.
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    Center yourself. Beyond avoiding panic, you need to gather all of your focus. It is better to take a little time to center yourself at this point, and proceed with clarity and calmness than to work in a frenzy and be scattered and then calm down.
    • Shut yourself off from all distractions. Remove anything that can cause your mind to wander. Put away the iPod, iTunes, cell phone, lists of things to do, TV, radio, games, and so on. Unless you absolutely need it for research, your internet is strictly for research.
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    • Feed your brain. Have healthy snacks on-hand to keep up your energy and enthusiasm for working. Select high-protein items like peanut butter or soy, and complex carbohydrates, such as fruit and vegetables. Do not just fill up on refined sugar and caffeine - you will eventually crash and feel worse than you did before you ate.
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    • Take occasional breaks. Every hour or so, get up and stretch for two or three minutes. Walk around the room, do some jumping jacks and get your blood pumping. You'll focus better than you would if you simply sat and wrote for 5 hours. Do not, however, take your friend's offer of a game of Ultimate Frisbee or go for a hike.
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    Go to the library immediately. If there isn't one open, go online and use Google Scholar, as well as any online databases you're authorized to access. Do some basic research. However, you don't have time for depth, so you're going to have to skim and drag out what you can from a fast search.
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    Treat it like an exam. You are writing under pressure – no drafts, no second chances, it just has to be written. Pretending you're in an actual test can cut down on waffling as you focus on your work.

Method 2
Strategies for Writing

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    Know your assignment. Be sure to read your assignment, to figure out what exactly your paper is on. Usually your teacher will also outline any other requirements, such as citations, approximate length of the paper, and due date.
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    Consult your class materials: notes, textbooks, old quizzes, and so on. The material you have been working on is usually the raw ingredients for a paper. For example:
    • Notes on your discussion on hunter-gatherer societies in Meso-America can lead to a workable thesis.
    • Your essay response on Stella's character in "A Streetcar Named Desire" can yield ideas you can expand on in a paper.
    • Your textbook has suggested topics for discussion in class. Your class did not actually discuss the questions, but it makes a great topic for an essay.
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    Think broadly. Concentrate on the basic points of what think you are supposed to say, whether or not you actually believe it. For instance, if your paper is supposed to be on a Shakespearean play, get some idea of who the main characters of "Romeo and Juliet" are and what their main traits and motivations are. You haven't got time for myriad subtleties and nuances. However, be careful when transferring your broad thinking into statements in the paper. Make statements that you know to be true, but that aren't so blindingly obvious that your professor will feel you grasping at straws. Write down every generalization you can think of for the topic and see how they relate to each other.
    • Use study aids that cover the topic you're writing on. These will provide a brief synopsis of plots, characters, ideas, facts, outcomes, etc., in whatever field you're writing about. Don't reuse their analysis or copy anything, but use it to bring you up to speed on things you don't have time to read.
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    Pick a Position. A typical essay format requires taking stand on a subject, and then use knowledge, logic, and emotion to defend or attack a position.This is similar to a debate.
    • If you don't want to deal with conflict, compare or summarize the topic instead. In each case, find a minimum of three conflicts, comparisons or summaries to fill out the body of your paper. If you can't progress beyond three, at least you've got the body of the paper sorted.
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    When possible, use your opinion. In some instances, such as an English or history paper, your opinion is as important as the facts. Rely on this as a way of delving into the paper. Use your opinions to elaborate on the factual issues and underlying ideas of the topic, and take the opportunity to explore various interpretations. A lot of marks can be easily gained by having a thorough exploratory interpretation, provided you write it eloquently and with realism.
    • Avoid bloating the paper.It is tempting to go on and on in order to "fill out" the paper. However, professors will pick up on this. Say a point once and move on. It is better to say a series of factual statements and opinions once than to regurgitate any of them. At least the reader knows you're aware of what is involved the topic through your scant mentions.
    • If you're interpreting motivations or reasons behind why human beings did, said or achieved something, put yourself in their place and imagine how you would have handled the situation. Weave that into your writing as part of your opinion, such as "in my opinion, the Snark did that because he was under enormous pressure to complete something by a deadline and simply needed to find a way to get it done quickly." Your sense of motives may be heightened by the emotional high of trying to get this paper done on time, so use that to your advantage.
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    Find an expert's opinion. In addition to your own opinion, you can spend a good amount of the paper agreeing or disagreeing with some expert on the topic. Find the views of an expert in the area of your paper, cite him or her and then write a bunch about how you agree and disagree with the expert. You'd be doing this anyway as part of a more calmly written paper but given the limited time, you'll need to go for the jugular and point out at least two good reasons as to why this expert's ideas are right or wrong. Then, just focus on making what you have to say interesting. Even more points if what you say is an original take on this expert's opinion. Sometimes, the wackier, the better, but you need to be a solid writer to pull that off.
    • Avoid going off-topic and poking fun at the expert's personal traits or general expertise. That won't get you anywhere and will cause the person marking your paper to wonder if they're your next derogatory target.
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    If in doubt, leave it out. By this stage, you'll know that neither waffling nor writing what doesn't make sense isn't going to do you any good. Sometimes you may just get away with writing a shorter and more succinct precisely because what you're saying is so insightful and novel that your reader will be jaded by all the other longer, fluffier papers.
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    Use some tricks of the writing trade. Focus on presentation, not just content. For starters, don't aggravate the reader with basic mistakes. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation at the end. A well-written paper is more likely to make a good impression and convince the marker that you took your time writing it. Other things to consider include:
    • Use formal English. Always write in complete sentences, which should contain both a subject and a verb. Avoid contractions, which are inappropriately informal for academic writing. Try some phrases such as "due to the fact that," "during such time," "a limited number of," et cetera, which contribute formality and length. Check for a good list of formal phrases that might be considered "wordy" to fluff out your paper. If you're really desperate (and prepared to accept a lower grade), you can try things such as spelling out years (Nineteen Eighty-Four instead of 1984) and writing full names every time you mention a person (Homer Jay Simpson instead of just saying Mr. Simpson or Simpson).
    • Keep it simple. Avoid using unnecessarily long, overcomplicated sentences. If a thought can be expressed in 5 words don't use 15. Also, avoid complicated words. Using words that are familiar to you make your point more clear. Explaining concepts in your own words is easier and shows true comprehension of your topic.
    • Avoid repetition. If you are debating something and find yourself using "controversial" too often, consider using "polemical." Always have a thesaurus on-hand for writing papers.
    • Including some terms commonly employed by experts in the field makes the writing more precise and shows the professor that you know what you're talking about. Be sure to define jargon when appropriate. That being said, scientific research results can often be distorted when written in plain English in, say, magazine articles. Make sure that your professor understands what you are trying to communicate, but avoid simplifying things in a way that is less accurate.
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    Change the formatting. If your professor specified font size or any other formatting issues (as almost all of them do), ignore this step. Your trickery will probably be noticed and your paper will likely punish you for flouting the rules. If your professor has specified a number of pages, but hasn't specifically mentioned font size, font type, margins, or word count, then you can play around with those factors and make your paper take up more space. For example, Arial usually takes up more room than the standard Times New Roman. Comic Sans MS takes up more space but doesn't look very professional. Expand your margins from 1" (2.5cm) all around to 1.10" all around - if it's a 25-page paper you need, then this will really help. Other tips: .
    • If you are typing, highlight what you have written, right click on it, and click "Font". Click "Character Spacing" and where it says "By" after the box "Expanding", click the up arrow, but only a few times (like 3 or 4), then click OK. This will put additional, and somewhat undetectable, space between the letters of a word.
    • Select all the periods in your paper and change the font to size 14. You won't notice a big change for 4-page papers, but if you're writing a 20-page paper, you will save yourself one page of writing.
    • Inserting a single space before each line makes a huge difference by adding hundreds of characters, but is barely noticeable by anyone.
    • Use subtitles to organize and divide your paper. It will make it easier to follow, it will show the structure of your paper, and as a bonus, it adds an extra line or two (ie., space, subtitle, space)
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    Do not expect a perfect or even a respectable grade. It would be very difficult to make an A or a B; your paper would have to have substance to it. Unless you are truly brilliant under pressure, professors can spot most of these ploys at a glance, and they grade accordingly. Your grade will probably be lower than usual if you write less content and put less effort into your paper than you have in the past. It may even be a C or D, but that's better than a zero for not handing in anything.

Method 3
Citation-based Cheats

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    Cite multiple works by the same author. With MLA formatted citations, having the same author for more than one work can help bolster a page count a little. This is because it requires the addition of a bit of the work title to an in-text citation to properly identify the work, ex. (Poe "Annabel" 2-3) instead of (Poe 2-3). So if possible, try to use works or sources from the same authors.
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    Use lead-ins for a new source/author when quoting or summarizing. This is both correct and can add in several lines or more all told. Ex. Edgar Allan Poe, a well published critic and author of the time, stated "" instead of just dropping in the "".
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    Use block quotes. Block quotes are beautiful, but can only be used with three or more lines of poetry or four or more lines of prose. However, it's a very rare occasion that you would need to use that much of a work, and almost without exception should be followed by a large amount of either analysis or synthesis.
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    Use graphics and then cite them. If it is relevant, you might be able to get away with using a graphic, such as a table or chart, and the required in-text source, which can be several lines long, to bolster your page count. However, like a block quote, that much of an original work would most likely need to be followed by analysis or synthesis.


  • If you can use an essay from another course or class, this might be an option. However, this tends to be rare. .
  • Consider asking for an extension instead – cue doe eyes and sob story!
  • If the professor wrote any of your written works, agree with his or her opinions. Professors try to be open-minded and open to dissenting opinions, but in reality are more open to opinions echoing the ones he or she has.

Things You'll Need

  • Study aids
  • Library or online databases
  • Quiet place without distractions

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