Four Steps for STEM Majors to Rock that Next Paper

STEM students everywhere feel the pain of writing assignments. As people who would rather spend their time working with numbers and figures, sitting down to write a paper can seem so tedious and boring. But effective communication is one of the most important skills we can learn in college, as it’ll help us stand out when we express ourselves. STEM students with writing abilities are super valuable!

Even if you are only required to take one writing class, it’s important that you use this opportunity to enhance your skills and build confidence in your own writing. With online tools like the BibMe Plus grammar and plagiarism tool, writing becomes much less intimidating.

While you’re working on your writing, approach the assignment like any other math problem you would tackle. You can work out your writing using four steps: identify the problem, show your work, cut out unnecessary steps, and check your final answer.

1. Identify the problem

The most crucial part of your paper is your argument or the problem to be considered. When thinking through your thesis, go through and review several, peer-reviewed sources. Academic sources can be scary, but they contain the research you need to make your points.

After you’ve done research, craft your thesis statement to capture the essence of the problem. One trick is to rephrase the assignment as a question and then make sure your thesis answers that question. Clearly identify the problem or discussion that is of interest and communicate that you understand the problem from all angles.

Writing your paper will be so much more exciting if you can find a topic that interests you, too. You might even be able to find a subject that relates to science or math in some way.

2.     Show your work

Showing your work means that you provide clear and reasoned evidence as to how you are developing your argument while incorporating outside information. This evidence should come from outside sources and try to show various views of an argument.

This will make the stated claims clear and your writing easy to understand. Clearly point your reader in the correct direction, using logical steps that follow one another.

Also important: cite your sources so others can confirm or read more on the evidence you’ve used. If you don’t know which citation style to use, ask your professor. Commonly used citation styles include MLA format, APA format, and Chicago Manual of Style.

3. Cut out unnecessary steps

It’s tempting but don’t try to impress your teacher by using the biggest words or the longest, most complicated sentences you can think of. This will make the paper hard to follow. Simple and clear is always better, just like when solving an equation.

Even if you have a gigantic assignment, you still have to cut out the fluff. This means actively checking for lengthy or wordy sentences and avoiding passive voice. For example, instead of:

The cake was baked by Mary.

You’d write:

Mary baked the cake.

Writing assignments in college require active voice, which can be a tough transition from the lab reports that require passive constructions. After you’ve written your draft, read it aloud. Listen for passive voice, and circle any words that you’re not quite sure about. After that, cut out any words that are unnecessary and revise until your writing is as clear as you can make it.

4. Check your final answer

Any time you solve a math problem, it is a good idea to check your work to make sure that your answer makes sense. Writing is no different!

Nailing a smooth flow and good writing transitions on the first try can be tough. Try making a flowchart with one-word descriptors of each paragraph, and rearrange them until you find the order that makes the most sense if your organization doesn’t seem right. Your topic sentences should serve as your roadmap, so ensure that these follow each other logically. Reviewing the flow of your argument is always a great last step in writing!

Being a mathematician or a scientist means that you will have to explain your work to the world, and mastering writing is the key to spreading your ideas and your accomplishments. The good thing is that there’s likely no need to drastically change or enhance your writing. Approaching your assignments like any STEM exercise is a great way to make you feel more at ease. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that be from your TA, a tutor, or your campus writing center. Just take the assignment one step at a time.

Trying to remember how linking verbs work? Need a refresher on what is a prepositional phrase? Looking for an interjection to use in your next paper? Check out our BibMe grammar guides for help with the above and more!