For some college students, the transition from writing in high school to writing in college can be smooth. For others, it can be incredibly frustrating. After all, you were receiving praise from your high school teachers and now, in college, you’re being told that your writing is missing something. Your mechanical writing hasn’t changed. You still know where to put the punctuation. You still know how to spell the words you’re using. So what’s wrong? What’s wrong is that college writing is different from high school writing. You’re now being asked to make an argument. You now need to make a claim, find evidence that supports that claim, and show that you’ve thought about the limits of and objections to your claim. With that in mind, here are 7 tips that will help you become a better college writer.
1. Start Big and Get Small
More specifically, summarize everything that you plan to discuss in the paper in the first paragraph. Then, in each paragraph, make sure the first sentence states everything that you plan to discuss in the rest of that paragraph. This is known as the topic sentence.
2. Find Opportunities to Be Critical
By being critical, I mean you need to question and not to take everything at face value. To be critical means to look carefully at a subject and to ask tough questions about the different aspects of it. Reference other sources and write about how they see the subjects. Also, keep in mind that a person’s high status doesn’t mean that they’re right about the subject you’re writing about. Question them just as thoroughly as you would anyone else.
3. Understand Your Professor’s Expectations
During your time in college, you will be expected to write a variety of different papers. Analytic papers, research papers, papers about your experiences, summaries about a piece of literature, etc. Use the syllabus, the paper assignment, the rubric, and anything said in class to figure out what is expected. When in doubt, ask in class or go to office hours.
4. Write, Re-Write, Re-Re-Write
In your first draft, you’ll never have the best arguments, you’ll never answer the question fully, and you’ll always fall short of your professor’s expectations. The first draft is always there to push you in the right direction, not to be the final product. Your best points aren’t going to be established before writing, they’re going to come out towards the end of the process of writing. Once you have your points, refine them in the following draft.
5. Have Multiple People Look Over It
If you’re the only one looking over your paper, you’re going to miss mistakes and you’re not going to be as critical. Having another person look over your paper will give you a more objective view of it. You’ll notice more mistakes and you’ll find more issues with your arguments.
6. Be Concise
In high school, students developed the habit of saying more about less. They would just sit down at their computers and just start writing. However, in college, you need to get used to saying less about more. We’ve all gotten papers back with “Redundant”, “Unnecessary”, “This doesn’t contribute to your argument” written on it. By learning to be concise, you’ll be more equipped to write in the professional workplace.
7. Begin With An Effective Introduction and End With An Effective Conclusion
Introductions are probably the hardest part of the essay to write. This is why everybody recommends that you start off with the body paragraphs and write the introduction based off that. That isn’t all. It needs to be effective. It needs to catch your reader’s attention, it needs to be concise, it needs to answer the question. The conclusion reviews the essay and restates the argument. However, that doesn’t mean that all you need to do is copy and paste the introduction and add a few specific points. The conclusion should be the richest, most complex part of the essay. There are three ways of achieving this: you can suggest the significance of your conclusion, you can say what further questions your paper raises, and you can also add a relevant quote that will bring your paper to a graceful close.
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
– E. L. Doctorow