What makes college writing different than the writing I’ve done up to this point?

Incoming college students understandably have questions and concerns related to the kinds of work and the quality of work that will be expected of them.  Specifically with writing, some wonder about the kinds of assignments they’ll do and whether they will be able to do well on those assignments.  If these are your concerns, consider some of the following advice:

  • You may have heard that you’ll do “academic writing” in college.  While “academic writing” means different things to different people, what professors often mean when they use the term is writing that involves some kind of analysis or reflection. Whether it is a research paper, lab report, personal essay, or multimedia project, or some other kind of assignment, professors are usually expecting more than simply reporting of information. Instead there will usually be some expectation that you provide analysis or reflection that explains why things happened as they did. Offering reasons for your thoughts - or answering the “why” questions -- is a central concern of much writing at the university level.
  • Many times, writing in the university means working with and responding to other scholars’ research.  You might have a question you want answered or a topic that you want to learn more about.  Instead of trying to write a paper that only focuses on what you already know about the topic, you’ll do research to see what others have already said about the topic.  And in your writing, you’ll share with readers what is already known about your topic by discussing other scholars’ work and then you’ll share your thoughts based on how you’ve interpreted the research you’ve been doing.
  • The kind of writing you’ll do as a university student will often vary based on the class you’re taking.  Each discipline approaches writing in its own unique way by using certain conventions (i.e., specific vocabulary, specific ways of structuring the document).  The conventions that you’ll see in a Sociology essay, for example, are not arbitrary but instead are in place to help the writer talk about subject matter in a way that is appropriate and useful to the discipline of Sociology.  And the research you will do may differ from class to class.  Some class assignments might involve a lot of reading while other assignments may, for example, ask you to do field research. What you need to do is learn about the different types of writing that you’re being asked to do.
  • The things that you are already know about writing will come in handy.  You’ve likely written papers that have some of the same characteristics as university-level writing, whether they were research papers, personal reflections, or reports.  You should apply that knowledge but also be open to new advice.  Often the advice you’ll receive in college won’t contradict what you know, but will instead complicate what you’ve learned, which will help you come to an even greater understanding of how writing works and how writing gets done.  Overall, the expectation from your professors is that you’ll have something intelligent to say to your readers and that you’ll be able to communicate those intelligent ideas in a way that connects with your audience.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

We can help you succeed with your writing at every step of your writing process.  We can help you interpret assignments, understand genres, work through revisions, respond to professors’ comments, and help you learn how to edit your own work.  We recommend that you come in as soon as you get an assignment, so you can give yourself enough time to work through any problems that may come up as you write.