Colleges often have essay prompts for students to respond to. These can vary from school to school, and some even allow students to choose their own topic.
Writing at the college level differs from any other type of writing you may have done in high school. This resource will help you refresh your skills and frame your thoughts in ways that instructors at the college level expect.
1. Know Your Topic
Writing can be a daunting task for college students. Some students worry about grammar and punctuation errors, while others fear rambling or being unable to organize their thoughts.
Knowing your topic is one of the first steps in improving your academic writing. You can learn about different topics through coursework and reading books for pleasure. Choosing a topic that interests you is a great way to ensure your interest throughout the entire process of writing your paper.
2. Know Your Audience
Whether you are marketing a new product or writing for academic purposes, you need to understand your audience. This upfront research allows you to create content that resonates with your audience.
Considering your audience can help you decide how much background information to include in your writing. For example, if your audience knows your topic, you can skip over explaining it in detail. This saves time and makes your writing more reader-friendly.
3. Know Your Purpose
College students are often writing for class assignments. This can include essay answers, research papers, and more.
It’s important for undergraduates to find a purpose in their work and have someone encourage them to pursue it. Listen to hear more.
In your “why us” college essays, it’s important to focus on specific details about the institution that make you interested in it. This will help demonstrate that you did your homework and that the school’s strengths align with your academic goals and passions.
4. Know Your Style
The first time a college student writes an academic paper, they might be surprised at the amount of work involved. They might also be nervous about their writing skills and worry that their words won’t come across as intelligent.
To help address these concerns, consider taking a few online writing refresher courses. These resources can help students frame their thoughts and prepare for writing assignments at the college level.
They may also learn how to use different sentence structures, improve their grammar and use punctuation properly.
5. Know Your Grammar
Most undergraduate students have been out of school for several years, and academic writing can feel very unfamiliar. It is important to teach them that good grammar is essential for clarity and precision in their writing.
Students should discern what they know about grammar by asking questions and encouraging thoughtful discussion. They should read extensively to provide “linguistic input” that will naturally reinforce proper grammar usage in their minds.
Also, point out useful online resources like Duke Writing Studio’s handouts on sentence fragments, run-ons, and count vs. non-count nouns.
6. Know Your Word Count
Knowing your word count is a crucial writing skill. It can help you keep your assignments on track and avoid going over or under the recommended amount. It can also help you tailor your writing to your audience.
Some professors or employers may require that you submit an essay, assignment, or professional form within a certain number of words. This is why it’s important to know how to check your word count on Word, either on a computer, mobile device, or online.
7. Know Your Citations
Citations acknowledge any outside source that influenced your language, ideas, or arguments. They also help you avoid plagiarism, which is considered academic dishonesty and can result in disciplinary action.
Some facts are considered common knowledge and do not need to be cited (such as the number of hours in a day or that Albany is both a city and a state). However, statistics, opinions, and less-familiar facts should always be cited.
Citations must be formatted according to a specific citation style; click the tabs above to learn about MLA, APA, CSE, and Chicago styles.
8. Know Your Format
College-level writing assignments vary from class to class, and some may be very open-ended. Others will be quite specific and require a very narrow and targeted topic.
Whatever the assignment is, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the format before you start. This will help you avoid any formatting issues that might interfere with the content of your essay.