Freshmen are often stymied by the writing demands of college courses. Good high school writers, with past grades to prove it, do not necessarily make good college writers. College standards are higher and effective college writing requires reflective forethought, in-depth research, supportable points of argument, well-developed ideas, solid structural technique and stellar editing. The first step to good college writing is adapting to this new world order.
Thinking critically is an essential college skill. Students should not accept the conclusions of scholarly articles merely because they are written by so-called experts. Instead, students need to examine evidence and supporting arguments. For example, while reading an article touting the value of energy drinks, students should question the author's research, methods, means and possible motives. If the beverage industry funded the research, students might draw their own intellectual conclusions.
Using the principles of rhetoric -- effective speaking and writing -- students should stake a claim and support it with evidence. A pro-gun-control argument, for example, would include statistics, anecdotes and legislative history. It is equally important, however, to address the opposition. In the gun control case, the student might acknowledge Second Amendment restrictions and the existence of gun violence in states and countries with strict laws, while still maintaining that a commonsense approach to gun legislation should be considered.
College writing must be structurally sound, grammatically correct and written in an active voice whenever possible. The writing center at Wheaton College advises writers to ask the question “who did it?” when assessing whether they’re staying in active voice. Subjects should be front-and-center. For example, it’s not "My homework was eaten by the dog," but rather, "The dog ate my homework." Wheaton also suggests a sentence's action progress "to the right,” dog-to-homework, not homework-to-dog.
Effective writing uses efficient and well-chosen words to make a point and support an argument. Avoiding redundancy, eliminating unnecessary qualifiers, adverbs and clauses, and writing in a positive voice can create writing that is powerful and concise. Both of the following sentences offer essentially the same information, but the second is written much more concisely: "Because the rally was not attended by enough students, the administration quickly decided not to have the second one." "The administration canceled the rally due to low student attendance at the first event."
It isn’t enough to merely proofread; students must be willing to fully revise their writing as their ideas develop and expand. College students should think, research, write and then put their work aside. Upon revisiting the work, students should be sure they have chosen defensible and fully supported theses. They should edit for repetition and structural, grammar and punctuation errors. They should also be certain to use relevant college-level vocabulary.
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