Chapter 17: Writing in College

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the expectations for reading and writing assignments in college courses.
  2. Recognize specific types of writing assignments frequently included in college courses.
  3. Understand and apply general strategies for managing college-level writing assignments.
  4. Determine specific reading and writing strategies that work best for you individually.

As you begin this chapter, you may be wondering why you need an introduction. After all, you have been writing and reading since elementary school. You completed numerous assessments of your reading and writing skills in high school and as part of your application process for college. You may write on the job, too. Why is a college writing course even necessary?

As you begin this chapter, you may be wondering why you need an introduction. After all, you have been writing and reading since elementary school. You completed numerous assessments of your reading and writing skills in high school and as part of your application process for college. You may write on the job, too. Why is a college writing course even necessary?

When you are eager to get started on the coursework in your major that will prepare you for your career, getting excited about an introductory college writing course can be difficult. However, regardless of your field of study, honing your writing skills—and your reading and critical-thinking skills—gives you a more solid academic foundation.

In college, academic expectations change from what you may have experienced in high school. The quantity of work you are expected to do is increased. When instructors expect you to read pages upon pages or study hours and hours for one particular course, managing your work load can be challenging. This chapter includes strategies for studying efficiently and managing your time.

The quality of the work you do also changes. It is not enough to understand course material and summarize it on an exam. You will also be expected to seriously engage with new ideas by reflecting on them, analyzing them, critiquing them, making connections, drawing conclusions, or finding new ways of thinking about a given subject. Educationally, you are moving into deeper waters. A good introductory writing course will help you swim.

Table 1.1 “High School versus College Assignments” summarizes some of the other major differences between high school and college assignments.

Table 1.1 High School versus College Assignments

High School College
Reading assignments are moderately long. Teachers may set aside some class time for reading and reviewing the material in depth. Some reading assignments may be very long. You will be expected to come to class with a basic understanding of the material.
Teachers often provide study guides and other aids to help you prepare for exams. Reviewing for exams is primarily your responsibility.
Your grade is determined by your performance on a wide variety of assessments, including minor and major assignments. Not all assessments are writing based. Your grade may depend on just a few major assessments. Most assessments are writing based.
Writing assignments include personal writing and creative writing in addition to expository writing. Outside of creative writing courses, most writing assignments are expository.
The structure and format of writing assignments is generally stable over a four-year period. Depending on the course, you may be asked to master new forms of writing and follow standards within a particular professional field.
Teachers often go out of their way to identify and try to help students who are performing poorly on exams, missing classes, not turning in assignments, or just struggling with the course. Often teachers will give students many “second chances.” Although teachers want their students to succeed, they may not always realize when students are struggling. They also expect you to be proactive and take steps to help yourself. “Second chances” are less common.

This chapter covers the types of writing assignments you will encounter as a college student. You will also learn a variety of strategies for mastering these new challenges—and becoming a more confident student and writer.

Exercise 1

Review Table 1.1 “High School versus College Assignments” and think about how you have found your college experience to be different from high school so far. Respond to the following questions:

  1. In what ways do you think college will be more rewarding for you as a learner?
  2. What aspects of college do you expect to find most challenging?
  3. What changes do you think you might have to make in your life to ensure your success in college?

Tip

Students are often reluctant to seek help. They feel like doing so marks them as slow, weak, or demanding. The truth is, every learner occasionally struggles. If you are sincerely trying to keep up with the course reading but feel like you are in over your head, seek out help. Speak up in class, schedule a meeting with your instructor, or visit your university learning center for assistance.

Deal with the problem as early in the semester as you can. Instructors respect students who are proactive about their own learning. Most instructors will work hard to help students who make the effort to help themselves.

 

Common Writing Assignments

College writing assignments serve a different purpose than the typical writing assignments you completed in high school. In high school, teachers generally focus on teaching you to write in a variety of modes and formats, including personal writing, expository writing, research papers, creative writing, and writing short answers and essays for exams. Over time, these assignments help you build a foundation of writing skills.

In college, many instructors will expect you to already have that foundation.

Your college composition courses will focus on writing for its own sake, helping you make the transition to college-level writing assignments. However, in most other college courses, writing assignments serve a different purpose. In those courses, you may use writing as one tool among many for learning how to think about a particular academic discipline.

Additionally, certain assignments teach you how to meet the expectations for professional writing in a given field. Depending on the class, you might be asked to write a lab report, a case study, a literary analysis, a business plan, or an account of a personal interview. You will need to learn and follow the standard conventions for those types of written products.

Finally, personal and creative writing assignments are less common in college than in high school. College courses emphasize expository writing, writing that explains or informs. Often expository writing assignments will incorporate outside research, too. Some classes will also require persuasive writing assignments in which you state and support your position on an issue. College instructors will hold you to a higher standard when it comes to supporting your ideas with reasons and evidence.

Table 1.2 “Common Types of College Writing Assignments” lists some of the most common types of college writing assignments. It includes minor, less formal assignments as well as major ones. Which specific assignments you encounter will depend on the courses you take and the learning objectives developed by your instructors.

Table 1.2 Common Types of College Writing Assignments

Assignment Type Description Example
Personal Response Paper Expresses and explains your response to a reading assignment, a provocative quote, or a specific issue; may be very brief (sometimes a page or less) or more in-depth For an environmental science course, students watch and write about President Obama’s June 15, 2010, speech about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Summary Restates the main points of a longer passage objectively and in your own words For a psychology course, students write a one-page summary of an article about a man suffering from short-term memory loss.
Position Paper States and defends your position on an issue (often a controversial issue) For a medical ethics course, students state and support their position on using stem cell research in medicine.
Problem-Solution Paper Presents a problem, explains its causes, and proposes and explains a solution For a business administration course, a student presents a plan for implementing an office recycling program without increasing operating costs.
Literary Analysis States a thesis about a particular literary work (or works) and develops the thesis with evidence from the work and, sometimes, from additional sources For a literature course, a student compares two novels by the twentieth-century African American writer Richard Wright.
Research Review or Survey Sums up available research findings on a particular topic For a course in media studies, a student reviews the past twenty years of research on whether violence in television and movies is correlated with violent behavior.
Case Study or Case Analysis Investigates a particular person, group, or event in depth for the purpose of drawing a larger conclusion from the analysis For an education course, a student writes a case study of a developmentally disabled child whose academic performance improved because of a behavioral-modification program.
Laboratory Report Presents a laboratory experiment, including the hypothesis, methods of data collection, results, and conclusions For a psychology course, a group of students presents the results of an experiment in which they explored whether sleep deprivation produced memory deficits in lab rats.
Research Journal Records a student’s ideas and findings during the course of a long-term research project For an education course, a student maintains a journal throughout a semester-long research project at a local elementary school.
Research Paper Presents a thesis and supports it with original research and/or other researchers’ findings on the topic; can take several different formats depending on the subject area For examples of typical research projects, see Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” in the open textbook, “Writing for Success”

Writing at Work

Part of managing your education is communicating well with others at your university. For instance, you might need to e-mail your instructor to request an office appointment or explain why you will need to miss a class. You might need to contact administrators with questions about your tuition or financial aid. Later, you might ask instructors to write recommendations on your behalf.

Treat these documents as professional communications. Address the recipient politely; state your question, problem, or request clearly; and use a formal, respectful tone. Doing so helps you make a positive impression and get a quicker response.

 

Key Takeaways

  • College-level reading and writing assignments differ from high school assignments not only in quantity but also in quality.
  • Managing college reading assignments successfully requires you to plan and manage your time, set a purpose for reading, practice effective comprehension strategies, and use active reading strategies to deepen your understanding of the text.
  • College writing assignments place greater emphasis on learning to think critically about a particular discipline and less emphasis on personal and creative writing.

Licenses and Attributions:

The chapters in this unit are taken from Writing for Success, which is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative and is available at https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/ 

This adaptation has reformatted the original text, and replaced some images and figures to make the resulting whole more shareable. This adaptation has not significantly altered or updated the original 2011 text. This work is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Adaptions: Removed information about reading.

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Blueprint for Success in College and Career by Dave Dillon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book