A Comprehensive Guide To College Writing For First Year Students

A Comprehensive Guide To College Writing For First Year Students

Navigating through the first year of college can be intimidating and challenging for a wide array of reasons. Getting acquainted with the new environment takes time, energy and patience. From getting to know your new classmates and lecturers to becoming familiar with the campus and classes, starting college is a major event in any student's life. This is a new chapter filled with a lot of essay writing. However, first-year students can prepare in advance for their life on campus by researching classes and extra-curricular activities and reading mandatory books in advance.

Possibly the biggest change first-year students have to face is the type of writing they are expected to produce and hand in for different classes. College writing has to be complex, structured and backed up by research. No college paper is complete without quotes and references. Few first-year students are prepared to tackle this type of writing. To come to their help, this ultimate guide to college writing will walk you through the fundamentals of writing an academic paper, answering some very important frequently asked questions about introductions, conclusions, outlines, proofreading and formatting.

High School Vs College Writing - What You Need to Know

Writing your own academic papers for college can seem scary, especially if you didn't do a lot of writing in high school or if you dread the entire process. You can seek help for researching, structuring, writing or proofreading papers when you have more urgent assignments to attend to or when you're stuck and don't know how to get out of the rut.

College professors have higher standards than your former instructors from high school. If in high school you were expected to write either one-page essays giving your personal opinions on various topics or half-page answers to simple questions, college writing might take you by surprise.

​Your academic papers will be expected to accurately summarise and extract important information from a wide array of readings. You will need to prove a full and correct understanding of the subject matter as well as speculate about it. You might be asked to give your opinion on a topic, analyse it and support your claims with well-structured arguments. These are all essential features of academic writing and you have to master the art of arguments if you want to deliver A+ papers every time.


Defining and Understanding Arguments

An intelligent argument is the backbone of a successful college paper. It demonstrates to your professor that not only are you well-acquainted with the reading or topic that is being discussed, but that you also have your own thoughts about the matter which you can elaborate in a fluent, cleverly designed paper.

Powerful essays start with a claim. You need to state the facts but also entice the readers to keep on reading. You can then follow up with your evidence. The aim of evidence-based facts is to support the claim and make it sound plausible. Ideally, when reading the reasons for the claim, your readership should nod in agreement and want to eagerly keep on reading your academic paper.

A thoughtful essay goes further and presents the limits to the claim stated in the beginning of the text. A savvy writer goes beyond simply presenting a claim and backing it up with evidence. They think about limitations and thus prove their ability to think outside the box, embracing challenges and objections. By presenting a few objections to your claim you show a deeper understanding of the subject and you also set your paper apart from other mediocre essays that barely scratch the surface of the topic they engage in.


Understanding an Assignment

While some professors will give you a detailed account about what they expect to see in your paper, others will merely present you with a very general question and expect you to decide the structure of your essay on your own. Whichever the case, your first priority when receiving an assignment is to fully grasp what the instructor expects you to hand in. Are they expecting a summary of a reading? Do they want a one-page essay or a five-page paper backed up by a bibliography of at least three books? Answering these questions can be hard but not impossible.

Start by looking at the phrasing of the assignment and decipher what you have to do. Some assignments will be formulated to suggest opposite claims. This is one of the happiest scenarios where the requirement is clear and you have a good starting point for your paper.

However, when the requirement asks you to “discuss”, “show how” or “illustrate”, things can be a bit more complicated. These types of tasks don't require a summary but rather a deep and thorough analysis connected to motifs, patterns and reasons. Your professor will expect you to make a claim, back it up with evidence from the text and uncover how the reading works. You will, of course, have to introduce an argument and prove to your instructor that you have thoroughly understood the meaning of the text in discussion.

Drafting and Writing Your Paper - How to Outline, Introduce and Conclude a Paper

Now that you know what to expect from college writing and how to tackle assignments so that you can ace your very first essay, we can concentrate on finding relevant information that will help you prove your point and make your readership nod in agreement.

Before drafting the first version of your paper, it's essential to read the text, novel or book that you are discussing in a critical way. Your objective should be collecting data (which will support your claim) and analysing it (in order to reach a plausible conclusion, suitable for your essay).


The Important of Essay Outlining - How to Choose the Right One for You

Every writer is different. Whether you set out to create a one-page essay or a 20-page academic paper, you will most likely need an outline to guide you in putting pen to paper and articulating your ideas. You can either create a full-fledged detailed outline that will comprise your main ideas and sub-points for each of them or a scratch outline that lists the main topics you want to discuss.

There is no universal method of outlining your paper and since each writer has a unique process of creating, you will have to experiment with both methods in order to discover what works best for you. A detailed outline might require more prep time. You have to jot down your main points and carefully consider how to arrange their sub-points. You can, of course, change this outline later on but it's worth spending the extra time on the backbone of your paper which will guide you through a powerful and clear analysis. A scratch outline is less structured and emphasises topics rather than a particular order. This might not be as time-consuming as the previously mentioned method of outlining but you will still have to spend time arranging your topics in a coherent order and assigning sub topics to each main point.


The Yays and Nays of Your Introduction

Many college students will agree that writing the introduction for a paper is the most difficult part of the entire essay. To come to their help, professors all around the world preach a simple solution: leaving the introduction for last. This means you can go ahead and start working on the body of your paper and leave that one or two introductory paragraphs for last. While this technique is not unanimously accepted and implemented, it does manage to put some students at ease.

Writing your introduction last means you already know the topic inside out and can write a powerful and enticing intro. That's not always the case. Ruining an introduction is easy, even if you have the best intentions. Sure, you could paraphrase your assignment but does that succeed in putting across your point and letting your readership know what approach you've chosen? It's also tempting to include an account of your thought process in the introductory paragraph. However, you will fail to announce your main subject and your readers won't know what to expect from the essay. Finally, you could state the obvious in your introduction, but you would end up oversimplifying the matter in question and failing to encourage readers to keep on reading.

So what does a great introduction comprise of? It emphasises what you will try to achieve in the paper by explaining the whys and illustrating the hows. A gripping introduction should make ample use of key terms that let the readership know how you plan to answer a question.


How to Reach an Effective Conclusion

Unlike introductions, students find that conclusions practically write themselves. After being engulfed in the topic, after reading, re-reading, analysing, underlining, polishing, and rewriting, a good conclusion should come easily. This part of your paper should be complex and rich. You can begin your conclusion by reiterating your main idea and underlining if there are any questions that still remain unanswered. It's always interesting to leave your readership with some food for thought that will spark their interest even more.

Classic essay conclusions often state the importance of solving a problem or answering a question. Emphasise your point once again and possibly identify any further implications that can branch out into different areas.

Dealing with Writer's Block

Everyone finds themselves in a rut every now and then whether they're writing a one-page or a 10-page paper. Since you're striving to achieve so many things at once in an essay, you might find it difficult or impossible to start. There might be a multitude of angles you can take and a dozen of questions to answer. Which one is the perfect one and what choice will bring you the highest grade?


How Talking to a Tutor Can Spark Your Productivity Again

Writing a college paper should not focus entirely on pleasing the instructor and achieving the highest grade possible. Instead, you should concentrate on choosing a unique approach, posing creative questions and finding interesting new ways to answer seemingly simple questions. Once you establish your intentions, you can start collecting evidence and organising it in a neat collection that will help you back up your point.

If you're feeling unproductive or if you have writer's block don't wait for the deadline to be just around the corner unless you want to start panicking. Take action immediately and discuss your issues with a tutor. Talking about your intentions, the question you want to pose and your approach with someone else will help spark your creativity again and bring in new perspectives that you might have overlooked. However, don't rely entirely on your tutor to do your job for you.

Thoroughly prepare for the appointment in advance. Be ready to talk about your progress and have the outline of the paper with you at the meeting. Bring everything you have written up to that point with you and show it to the tutor. They should be able to get the gist of your work and progress from what you show them as well as from your explanations. Don't be shy to talk about what troubles you or what is keeping you from advancing with your paper. Offer concrete examples and details. Keep in mind that you have to be as clear as possible if you want to receive genuine and useful feedback from your tutor.


On the Importance of Taking Notes

Keep in mind that you should be taking notes all throughout your meeting with the tutor. Write down suggestions and even outline a plan of action with help from your tutor. While talking about your problems, you might feel like you clearly understand what your next steps should be and how you should approach difficult issues. But a couple of hours later you might discover your plan has evaporated from your mind and you're back where you started. It's essential to fully understand everything you discuss with your tutor so don't leave any matters up in the air. Insist on getting help with the plan and make sure this is consistent, actionable and easy to follow.

About Titles and Proofreading - How to Polish Your Paper Through Formatting

An important part of any college paper writing is knowing when your essay is finished and when it can be revised, proofread and formatted. A finished paper should feel coherent, strong and thought-provoking. It should have a logical structure, look aesthetically pleasing and be easy to read – no uber-long paragraphs, no long, knotty sentences that run-on for an entire paragraph.

Your finished paper should give you a sense of satisfaction. Wait a few hours or a day between the initial revisions and the final revision. This will allow you to review the essay with a fresh mind and eyes. You will also be able to spot grammatical errors, misspellings, typos or ambiguous sentences. Once you are content with the claim you have made and the evidence you have presented to back this up, you can revise the entire text for one final time.

In this stage, you can still rewrite parts of your paper that you find unsatisfactory or bits that you feel don't add any value to the material. You should also spend time on finding the right titles, both for your paper and for each topic. Toy around with various possibilities and decide which one is best suited for the text as a whole. Use an online proofreading tool such as Grammarly to make sure you didn't miss anything and that your text is impeccable from a grammar standpoint.


How to Choose the Right Title

Often times underestimated, titles hold much more power than we're aware of. A reader who will skim your paper generally looks at your main titles and sub-titles. They also notice quotes, bold and italicised words, however, titles have the biggest impact. This is why you shouldn't dismiss them too quickly.

Try to avoid choosing a bland name for your paper that merely echoes the assignment the teacher handed out. After all, you don't want your paper to bear the same name as those of your other 50 classmates, do you? Take a little longer to find the right title that does justice to all the hard work, effort and time you've poured into your paper. The title should encompass the key words you used in your text that are most likely also found in your conclusion.

It's best to choose terms that did not appear in the instructor's assignment. This will speak volumes about your work ethics and meticulousness. Your title should be a reflection of your paper. It shouldn't bring something new to the table nor use terms that don't appear throughout the entire essay. Don't use bombastic empty words in your title that fail to anticipate the key concepts in your writing.


The Importance of Proofreading

Proofreading (or lack of it thereof) along with formatting distinguishes organised, neat, and mature writers from careless, rushed, and sloppy ones. No great paper is truly finished until it is carefully scrutinised for spelling, punctuation and formatting errors. Confusing words like “their” and “they're” or “your” and “you're” will undoubtedly make your paper look unprofessional, sloppy and careless.

No spell-checkers are 100% reliable, so take the time to read your paper twice or thrice looking for mistakes. If your eyes are tired, you might be able to spot mistakes faster by reading a hard copy of your paper. If that's not an option, increase the font size in your word document and adjust your screen's contrast so that it's comfortable for your eyesight. You can also ask a colleague or roommate to give your paper a read and signal any undetected mistakes.


The Importance of Formatting

Just like proofreading, impeccable formatting will make your paper look professional and organised. Keep things simple and consistent. Use the same type of lists and bullet points throughout your entire paper. Unless your instructor requires otherwise, follow these guidelines to ensure proper formatting for your paper.

  • Type font – stick to consecrated type fonts that are used world-wide for academic papers. The font choice of your text weighs heavily so this is not a good time to experiment with new things. It goes without saying you should stay away from Comic Sans or other ornate fonts. Safe choices include Times New Roman, Garamond, Arial, Verdana or Helvetica.
  • Font size – the preferred font size for college papers is 12. Don't use font size in order to make your paper look shorter or longer. In the former case, you will use a font size that is too small which will put a strain on your instructor's eyesight. It's hard to fool anyone about the word count of your material, so keep it professional even if you are under or above the limits.
  • Ink colour – ensure the printer you're using yields black, clear text. Don't experiment with the colour of the text otherwise, your paper will stand out but not in a good way.
  • Spaces – you should leave a single space for quotes and double space between regular lines.
  • Margins – keep the margins set to 1.25 for all pages with no exceptions. Not only does this look polished and organised, it also gives you ample room to staple the pages together and gives the instructor enough space to jot down observations.
  • Numbering – your pages should always be numbered in the upper right corner.
  • Personal information – add your name, date and class details on the first page of your paper in the upper right corner. Your name should appear on every page of the material. The easiest way to do this in Microsoft Word is to add it as a header. This way, if a page gets misplaced, your professor will know where it belongs.