Avoid red ink by meeting the standards of college-level writing.

Knowing the demands of college-level writing will help you avoid a professor’s red pen and receive a well-deserved "A" on your final paper. College writing demands clear and specific language without some of the phrasing or shortcuts you would use with friends and family. Once you know the difference between college-level writing and casual writing, the clarity, consistency and polish of your work will please your professors.


Most college-level writing requires standard, or middle, diction: clear writing that avoids slang or other too-casual language. To change casual diction to standard diction, replace slang and euphemisms with their straightforward meanings. For example, you could change "The guy got killed in the race by that bum" to "The man lost the race to a weaker opponent." Standard diction should not use artificially elevated language, however. For example, "The competitor failed to traverse as rapidly as his inferior adversary" is too unclear and awkward for college-level writing.

Thesis Statement

College essays, unlike casual emails or letters to friends, generally require a thesis statement. A thesis statement explains to the reader what you intend to prove in the paper, what proof you will use, or -- in a nonpersuasive research paper -- what aspects of the topic you will cover. Even if a professor does not ask for a thesis statement, including one focuses your essay around a clear idea, which improves the quality and structure of your writing.

Authoritative Sources

If you write a persuasive essay or research paper in college, citing authoritative sources supports your claims beyond your personal opinion. Your college library contains resources for choosing credible academic sources. You must attribute sources using a formatting style such as MLA or APA. Professors usually state their preference in the assignment prompt. If they have no preference, choose a comfortable style and keep your citations and footnotes consistent throughout the assignment.

Similarities to Casual Writing

Though differences exist between casual and college-level writing, in both cases your goal is clear writing that conveys your intended message. Do not use elaborate synonyms for words when a simpler word conveys the same meaning without being slang. Additionally, first-person writing, which uses “I” or “we,” is acceptable for most college writing if the “I” is necessary -- for example, when discussing a lab experiment, you can use language such as “I added the acid to the beaker” instead of the awkward passive voice, as in “acid was added to the beaker.”