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Chapter 8 Writing for Classes

Figure 8.1

Where Are You Now?

Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.

Yes Unsure No
1. I enjoy writing and am a confident and productive writer.
2. I know what my instructors expect in student writing.
3. I understand the feedback I get from instructors and accept their criticism.
4. I am comfortable sharing my writing with peers.
5. I begin working on papers early and always revise my first full draft before turning in the paper.
6. I have a consistent approach to the writing process that works well for me.
7. I understand what plagiarism is and always cite online and print sources as required.
8. I seek out help whenever needed as I work on paper assignments.
9. I try to write all my college papers as if they were written for my composition instructor.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of confidence and your attitude about writing?

Not very strong Very strong
1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

In the following list, circle the three areas you see as most important to your improvement as a writer:

  • Using time effectively
  • Using sources effectively and appropriately
  • Understanding instructors’ expectations
  • Citing sources in the proper form
  • Being productive with brainstorming and other prewriting activities
  • Sharing my work in drafts and accepting feedback
  • Organizing ideas clearly and transitioning between ideas
  • Understanding the difference between proofreading and revision
  • Developing ideas fully
  • Drafting and redrafting in response to criticism
  • Using correct sentence mechanics (grammar, punctuation, etc.)
  • Using Web sites, reference books, and campus resources
  • Developing an academic “voice”

Think about the three things you chose: Why did you choose them? Have you had certain kinds of writing difficulties in the past? Consider what you hope to learn here.

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How to Get There

Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:

  • Understanding why writing is vital to your success in college
  • Learning how writing in college differs from writing in high school
  • Understanding how a writing class differs (and doesn’t differ) from other classes with assigned writing
  • Knowing what instructors in college expect of you as a writer
  • Knowing what different types of assignments are most common in college
  • Using the writing process to achieve your best work
  • Identifying common errors and become a better editor of your own work
  • Responding to an instructor’s feedback on your work in progress and on your final paper
  • Using sources appropriately and avoiding plagiarism
  • Writing an in-class essay, for an online course, and in group writing projects

The Importance of Writing

Writing is one of the key skills all successful students must acquire. You might think your main job in a history class is to learn facts about events. So you read your textbook and take notes on important dates, names, causes, and so on. But however important these details are to your instructor, they don’t mean much if you can’t explain them in writing. Even if you remember the facts well and believe you understand their meaning completely, if you can’t express your understanding by communicating it—in college that almost always means in writing—then as far as others may know, you don’t have an understanding at all. In a way, then, learning history is learning to write about history. Think about it. Great historians don’t just know facts and ideas. Great historians use their writing skills to share their facts and ideas effectively with others.

History is just one example. Consider a lab course—a class that’s as much hands-on as any in college. At some point, you’ll be asked to write a step-by-step report on an experiment you have run. The quality of your lab work will not show if you cannot describe that work and state your findings well in writing. Even though many instructors in courses other than English classes may not comment directly on your writing, their judgment of your understanding will still be mostly based on what you write. This means that in all your courses, not just your English courses, instructors expect good writing.

In college courses, writing is how ideas are exchanged, from scholars to students and from students back to scholars. While the grade in some courses may be based mostly on class participation, oral reports, or multiple-choice exams, writing is by far the single most important form of instruction and assessment. Instructors expect you to learn by writing, and they will grade you on the basis of your writing.

If you find that a scary thought, take heart! By paying attention to your writing and learning and practicing basic skills, even those who never thought of themselves as good writers can succeed in college writing. As with other college skills, getting off to a good start is mostly a matter of being motivated and developing a confident attitude that you can do it.

As a form of communication, writing is different from oral communication in several ways. Instructors expect writing to be well thought out and organized and to explain ideas fully. In oral communication, the listener can ask for clarification, but in written work, everything must be clear within the writing itself. Guidelines for oral presentations are provided in Chapter 7 "Interacting with Instructors and Classes".

Note: Most college students take a writing course their first year, often in the first term. Even if you are not required to take such a class, it’s a good idea for all students to learn more about college writing. This short chapter cannot cover even a small amount of what you will learn in a full writing course. Our goal here is to introduce some important writing principles, if you’re not yet familiar with them, or to remind you of things you may have already learned in a writing course. As with all advice, always pay the most attention to what your instructor says—the terms of a specific assignment may overrule a tip given here!