How to "Package" Your Paper or Writing Assignment to Please Your Professor
College papers not packaged to a professor's requirements can affect your grade. For best results, students should follow each professor's paper guidelines.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
After you've finished your first writing assignment for a new teacher, you're faced with the dilemma of whether to bind it in some sort of report cover, staple it, paper-clip it, or something else.
Remember first that dressing your paper up in a fancy report cover will not turn it from mediocre to outstanding.. Most professors are more irritated than impressed by fancy packaging. Some would rather have you paper-clip your paper or fold it lengthwise than staple it. Many professors don't even require or desire a cover/title page. Some professors are not concerned in the least about format or packaging. Others are fanatics about a precise format, and they will deduct points if you don't follow their edicts to the letter.
So how do you know how to package your paper? The key is to ask how your professor wants papers packaged because they rarely spell out this type of minutia on the syllabus. Now, if the professor is not a format fanatic but disdains the title page you provide, he or she is surely not likely to lower your grade anymore than if you stapled when he or she wanted you to paper-clip. But papers not packaged according to a professor's preference are an irritant.
If you go to the trouble to ask how the professor wants the paper packaged, you'll score a few warm fuzzies. I've seen some fancy packaging of academic work that had a pleasing effect on the professor and enhanced what was already excellent work. Generally, however, such over-the-top packaging works for projects for which more than simply a paper is involved. The simple, unadorned paper may be your best bet, but the only way you'll know for sure is to ask your professor (do make sure this information isn't on the syllabus before you ask).
Whatever its format and packaging, do be sure your paper is neat -- no smudges, coffee rings, grease stains from your pizza, few (if any) marks. Make sure your printer doesn't leave stray marks on the paper and that the print is heavy (dark) enough to be readable.
Remember that your paper's first impression on your professor may be significant. One professor who tells students about the importance of format and packaging notes that "the first appearance of a paper is often an indicator of its quality." Echoes Carolyn J. Mullins in The Complete Writing Guide, "Neatness, consistency and faithful use of a prescribed style make a favorable, although often subconscious, impression on readers."
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.