College writing requires a degree of sophistication and insight that most students lack. It’s true that on some level or another everyone “knows how to write.” However, there’s a difference between writing and merely putting words on a sheet of paper.
Even if you’re writing for a business or humanities class, your professors know what university-level writing looks like, and we’re betting that you didn’t learn what you should have learned in high school. Most students aren’t ready for college writing!
When your professors read your work, they look for specific things (even if they don’t consciously know it). Here are just some of the traits that differentiate quality college writing from “average” college writing:
- Organization: Although it’s much easier said than done, you must address the entire writing task. Failure to do so will absolutely prevent you from earning A’s (and probably even B’s) on your writing assignments. Follow the directions!
- Content: This is the hardest part. No matter the topic, you must say something new, original, and thought-provoking in every single sentence. Your content is reflected in your vocabulary. Using “big” words doesn’t cut it. You need to use the right words.
- Mechanics: Even if your content is strong, the most subtle errors in grammar and punctuation can distract your reader’s attention. Professors don’t like to read anything more than once, and they especially don’t want to have to go back and reread individual sentences. (If you have a tendency to make juvenile errors in usage, then you have a bigger problem that needs attention.)
College professors generally don’t give credit (let alone extra credit) for effort. They are looking for evidence that you have mastered the material. Your ability to demonstrate this mastery will determine your course grade and, in the long term, your grade point average.
The quality of your written work affects your college life—and, later, your career—more than you might realize.
One of the most persistent and lingering myths in English classes is that a oneeds a “hook” or something “catchy” with which to begin his or her essay.
The only “hook” that really works is quality content!
Every word of every important document means something. The extent to which it means something worth reading will determine the success or failure of an essay.
Part of the problem is the way students have been taught how to write introduction paragraphs. It usually goes something like this:
- “Get the reader’s attention.”
- List the main points you’ll be covering in your essay.
Neither instruction is really correct, but let’s focus on the first one. To “get the reader’s attention” does not require something “catchy” or “hooky.
Just think about those words: they describe pop songs!