Catherine Prendergast, over at the blog First Year Comp, has a number of great posts designed to help students through their first college writing course. I encourage you to check out some of the articles from the main page, but I wanted to draw particular attention to two posts, as we begin the process of constructing the policy essays in the coming weeks:
How to Write an Outline is especially germane to our task, as we’ll be meeting to work through your outline in early April. As Catherine explains, outlines can work for some people, but others need to actually write out their ideas first, and only then can they construct a “reverse outline.” Either way, examining an outline of your ideas lets you see the function of each paragraph from your reader’s perspective; it’s then a bit easier to figure out how your argument needs to change.
You Don’t Need to Make Your Paper Longer is a great way to consider a page/word count requirement from your instructor’s perspective:
[T]he page length is completely generic, probably one of the last things the instructor considered when creating the assignment. If you look at the grading breakdown for the paper (where given) it likely doesn’t give a percentage for what you would earn by writing the exact number of pages requested. And yet, I often find that students nearing the end of composing their drafts are more concerned about the length of a paper than anything else. They treat every assignment as if it presented them exactly the same riddle as the one before: How can I write more?
She then provides some succinct advice on what to focus on instead. Worth a read!