College Students: A Writing Resource Guide

College Students: A Writing Resource Guide

Writing papers in college is difficult and intimidating for many students. Our writing resources can help make the job easier.

Writing papers in college is difficult and intimidating for many students. Our writing resources can help make the job easier.

A college-level paper is much more difficult than any of the papers you wrote in high school.

Unlike high school essays that often focus more on summarizing information or demonstrating knowledge of a topic, college-level essays demand a deeper critical thinking and analysis writing process. A college-level academic essay needs to make a claim in the introductory paragraph and then spend the next several paragraphs backing up those claims with research to support your theory before leading the reader to a conclusion.

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What is Academic Writing?

College/academic writing is more complex than everyday writing for several reasons.

Academic writing is characterized by its formality, precision, clarity, and credibility. It often uses complex sentence structures to convey a lot of information efficiently. It deals with abstract concepts and prioritizes objectivity, focusing on ideas rather than the author’s identity. Rigor and logical argumentation are essential, with careful support and explanation of ideas. Academic writing also features a tightly knit structure that ensures a logical flow of ideas throughout the text.

Academic writing has several significant benefits for students.

  • Express Understanding: It enables students to communicate their grasp of complex subjects, assisting them in precisely articulating what they have learned.
  • Develop Analytical Thinking: Academic writing promotes critical thinking by requiring students to analyze information, form opinions, and communicate their findings effectively.
  • Focus on Style and Technique: This course strongly emphasizes style and technique, teaching students how to effectively communicate their ideas through organized, well-written essays—a crucial ability for academic and professional success in the future.
  • Enhance Critical Thinking and Objectivity: Students learn to consider various viewpoints, improving their capacity for critical thought and an objective approach to subjects.
  • Promote Professionalism: Having college students carefully follow directions and guidelines instills a sense of professionalism in them, preparing them for their future employment.
  • Improve Research Skills: Academic writing helps students and scholars improve their research abilities by requiring careful data collection, analysis, and critical thought.
  • Inculcate Work Ethic: It instills work ethics in students and motivates them to adhere to academic writing guidelines and standards while promoting discipline and commitment.

The Importance of Writing Skills in College

Writing is a universal skill that extends beyond formal academic and professional contexts. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) affirms that everyone is a writer to some extent.

While developing writing skills in college may require effort and practice, the long-term benefits are substantial. Writing proficiency is a valuable asset in the workforce and a skill that fosters critical thinking, communication, and personal development. Here are quick tips on how to improve your writing skills in college:

  • Establish Productive Writing Habits: Cultivate writing habits that suit your workflow. This may involve setting aside dedicated writing time, creating a conducive environment, or utilizing techniques like freewriting and brainstorming.
  • Extensive Reading: Dive deep into your specific academic field and explore diverse subjects in related fields. Broadening your knowledge base can inspire new ideas and perspectives for your writing.
  • Linguistic and Grammatical Proficiency: Enhance your linguistic awareness and grammatical sensitivity. Pay attention to language nuances and ensure your writing is free from grammatical errors, as precision in language is crucial in academic writing.
  • Navigate the Writing Process: Embrace the recursive nature of academic writing, which includes planning, outlining, drafting, revising, polishing, and ultimately presenting or publishing your work. Recognize that multiple revisions and iterations are often necessary for high-quality writing.
  • Address Key Elements: Focus on essential elements of academic writing, such as understanding your audience and purpose, organizing your content logically, developing a consistent writing style, ensuring clarity in your arguments, maintaining a smooth flow of ideas, and paying attention to the overall appearance and formatting of your work.
  • Cultural Awareness: If you encounter cultural barriers, work to overcome them. Be mindful of cultural diversity in communication styles, expectations, and references. Seek guidance or feedback from peers, mentors, or writing centers to bridge cultural gaps.

Students who embrace the importance of writing in college can reap rewards throughout their academic journey and future careers. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 90% of the surveyed employers viewed writing as either a “somewhat important” or “very important” skill.

Types of Academic Writing

Academic writing aims to persuade and change how people think and act, pushing society forward. This is why college students, or prospective college students, should quickly realize the importance of writing clearly and precisely.

In the world of academic writing, there are many types of writing styles, each with its own purposes and characteristics. These styles are like tools students use to communicate within their chosen fields of study. For example, there are research papers that dig deep into new ideas and discoveries, uncovering things we didn’t know before.

Below are the main types of academic writing you’ll encounter in college.

Research Papers

Research papers offer a thorough examination, assessment, or interpretation of a specific subject supported by empirical data. Research papers emphasize using statistical data and prior research and adhere to a rigorous reference style.

The most efficient way to disseminate knowledge over an extensive network is through research articles, which are the foundation of contemporary science.

Research papers often use professional, or even dull, language that eliminates bias because of their importance. For other researchers to use the publication in future research, original researchers must clearly express their findings and provide supporting data.

A typical research paper includes an introduction with a clear thesis statement, a literature review to provide context, a methodology section detailing research methods, results, or findings, and a conclusion summarizing key points and implications.

Research papers rely heavily on academic sources such as scholarly articles, books, and primary research materials. Proper citation and referencing are crucial in research papers, typically following a specific citation style.

Argument Papers

Your position, assertion, or perspective on your subject is your academic argument.

This position, assertion, or point of view gives your readers a viewpoint, perspective, or point of view on the subject at hand and adds to the present discussion on it.

An argument paper is not a conflict, combat, or hostile encounter. Argument papers are persuasive essays that present a clear and convincing argument or viewpoint on a particular issue or topic. They require students to use logical reasoning and evidence to make a case for their perspective.

Argument papers aim to influence the reader’s opinion, beliefs, or actions. They require students to consider counterarguments and address them effectively.

Argument papers usually begin with an introduction containing a thesis statement, followed by body paragraphs presenting evidence and reasoning, and a conclusion summarizing the argument and its implications.

To support their claims, students must provide credible evidence, such as statistics, research findings, expert opinions, or examples. Addressing opposing viewpoints and demonstrating their weaknesses is critical to successful argument papers.

Academic Proposals

Academic proposals are like carefully drawn maps for research projects that students want to do. They’re not just random notes on paper; they are detailed plans that show the way for future research.

In these proposals, you will find a detailed research plan. This plan has important parts like well-thought-out research questions, clear goals, a step-by-step plan for how to do the research, and a convincing reason for why the study is important. All these parts fit together to give a clear picture of what the research will be like.

One big job of these proposals is to ask for approval or money to do the research. Think of them as persuasive tools for getting support and resources to turn an idea into a real research project.

If we break down an academic proposal, we can see its basic parts. It starts with a good title that says what the research is about. Then comes the introduction, which explains why the research is needed and important.

A literature review is like showing what others have said about the topic and what’s still unknown. Research questions or hypotheses are like guiding stars that help the researcher know where to go.

The methodology section explains the tools and methods the researcher will use. Anticipated outcomes are like predictions about what the research will find, and the bibliography lists all the sources that were used to make the proposal.

You should be clear and concise when writing academic proposals. Otherwise, your work may be denied and will be left collecting dust.

Exam Essays

Exam essays are written responses to questions or prompts provided during examinations. They require students to demonstrate their understanding of course material, critical thinking skills, and the ability to convey ideas effectively within a limited timeframe.

The format of exam essays may vary, but they often require the college student to answer specific questions or respond to prompts with concise, well-organized reports.

Successful exam essays require thorough preparation, including a review of course materials, outlining key points, and practicing time management.

Due to time constraints, clarity and concise expression of ideas are crucial in writing essays in exams.

Expository Papers

Expository papers are informative documents that inform, describe, or explain a particular topic or concept to the reader. They do not necessarily require persuasive arguments. Expository papers seek to educate the reader by providing precise and unbiased information on a subject.

They typically follow a clear and organized structure, presenting information logically and sequentially.

Expository papers can be explanatory essays, how-to guides, informative articles, or reports. The primary focus in expository writing is on clarity and the effective transmission of information.

Tips for Writing a More Effective College-Level Academic Writing Piece

The best way to start your college paper is by creating an outline to help you organize your thoughts and make sure that your paper flows from paragraph to paragraph in a logical manner. Then, do multiple drafts to ensure that you can be proud of the finished project you hand in.

Aside from taking the time to outline, do your researc, and write multiple drafts, there are plenty of other important tips you should follow to put your best foot forward while writing a college paper.

Start Early and Draft Strategically

Start your essay early to make sure that you have a strong understanding of the topic and to give you plenty of time to brainstorm and find all of the sources you need to make a good argument. Extra time means that you can easily write a few different drafts of the essay to ensure that you clearly and precisely make the point you’re trying to make without bogging down your essay with unnecessary information.

The added benefit of starting early with your paper is that it gives you enough time to have your final draft reviewed by someone else, such as a friend, classmate, or writing tutor. Receiving feedback helps you avoid overlooking errors. This will help you pinpoint specific areas that need improvement rather than making arbitrary content modifications.

Here are some resources to consider:

  • University Writing Centers
  • Online Writing Communities
  • Reddit:
  • This social networking site has many subreddits, each focusing on a different subject or set of interests. Writing-related subreddits like r/writing, r/writers, and r/KeepWriting provide forums for discussing various elements of writing and publishing and asking for criticism on written work. Users can join discussions on literature and writing, post questions, and share their writing.

  • Stack Exchange:
  • This is a valuable tool for getting responses to writing-related concerns because users can ask questions regarding grammar, style, publication, and other writing-related topics.

  • Scribophile:
  • You can post your original paper and ask other users within the community for criticism. The platform encourages participants to constructively review and converse with one another to develop their writing abilities.

  • Critique Circle:
  • This writing community strongly emphasizes criticism and feedback. The platform runs on a credit system. This promotes a climate of reciprocity and helpful criticism among its participants.

Achieve Writing Excellence

Your papers should always use correct grammar and standard English. This is where it can be beneficial to write multiple drafts; that way, you can catch errors in an earlier draft and fix them before you hand in your final essay.

Don’t use jargon, slang, or symbols in your writing. Try to keep your tone formal, and don’t emphasize words with all caps, underlines, bold, or italic lettering. However, that doesn’t mean you have to overuse flowery language to sound more formal. Keep your words clear and concise so your reader always understands the point you’re trying to make.

Watch out for these common writing pitfalls:

  • Active vs. Passive Voice: Active voice is best for more straightforward writing. Passive voice is acceptable in some contexts but should only be employed occasionally.
  • Punctuation: Incorrect use of commas, semicolons, colons, and apostrophes are typical punctuation mistakes. Review the punctuation guidelines, then carefully edit your writing. Think about getting other people’s opinions or employing grammar-checking software.
  • Run-on Sentences and Sentence Fragments: Sentences that are too long and wrongly integrate multiple independent clauses are run-on sentences. On the other hand, sentence fragments are incomplete sentences that are missing crucial elements like subjects or verbs. To avoid these problems, shorten long sentences, check that each sentence has a distinct subject and verb, and punctuate independent clauses correctly.
  • Repetition: Repeating exact words, phrases, or concepts can make your writing uninteresting. Change up your sentence construction and vocabulary. Substitute words for the original ones or reword your phrases to avoid duplication.
  • Clichés and Overused Phrases: Clichés are overused expressions that have lost their originality and freshness. Clichés should be swapped out with creative and detailed wording. Strive to communicate your views in original ways.

Here are some of the most commonly used resources and writing tools to spot grammar errors:

  • Grammarly:
  • This is a popular online writing tool that offers tips for sentence structure, style, and clarity, as well as help with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. This tool is widely used to improve the quality of writing and is available as a desktop application, browser extension, and online editor.

  • Hemingway Editor:
  • Using the Hemingway Editor, student writers can make their work more understandable and readable. It points out issues like difficult-to-understand sentences, too many adverbs, and passive voice, and suggests ways to make the text simpler and more readable.

  • Ginger:
  • Ginger offers real-time recommendations and corrections as a grammar and spelling checker. It provides functions including sentence rephrasing, grammatical checking, and translation support.

  • WhiteSmoke:
  • This tool offers grammar, spelling, and punctuation checks. It also features a plagiarism checker and stylistic recommendations.

  • After the Deadline:
  • This grammar and proofreading tool can be incorporated into several content management systems and other programs. It looks for spelling, grammar, and style mistakes and offers ideas for correction.

  • LanguageTool:
  • This is an open-source grammar and style checker supporting several languages. It examines grammatical, punctuation, and stylistic mistakes and justifies suggested corrections.

  • ProWritingAid:
  • This is a thorough writing tool that offers functions including readability analysis, plagiarism detection, and tips for enhancing writing style in addition to grammar and style checks. It can be linked to other writing systems or used as an online editor.

Maximize Academic Resources

Make use of resources such as your campus library, your school’s writing lab, your professors, and the Internet. The writing lab has tutors who can review your paper to help you make sure you’re handing in the best project possible. The library and the Internet are perfect places for finding more sources to cite for your research, and of course, your professor is a well of information to answer any questions you may have about your assignment.

Popular online writing resources include:

  • International Writing Centers Association:
  • You can use this recourse to seek professional writing support. This is a hub for sharing best practices, research, and resources. It also provides a network for professionals to connect, collaborate, and discuss writing center pedagogy and administration.

  • Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL):
  • This resource provides several support services, including comprehensive writing guides, well-written examples, guidance on citing sources correctly, interactive exercises and quizzes, and virtual writing consultations. Plus, it’s typically free!

  • The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill:
  • College students can access this resource to seek support in various aspects of writing. You’ll gain access to one-on-one consultations, workshops, online resources, and specialized assistance.

  • The University of Iowa’s Writing Center:
  • The University of Iowa has a fantastic writing center and is known for the esteemed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Their tools include everything from basic academic writing to mastering syntax and punctuation, demonstrating their dedication to assisting students in all areas of writing.

Avoid Plagiarism and Use Proper Source Citation

Don’t plagiarize. When using other people’s work in your essay, always make sure to cite your sources appropriately. While it may be easy to claim an idea as your own, it’s not honest, and you risk getting caught and possibly expelled. You can use other people’s findings and talk about them, as long as you give credit where it’s due.

Here are some helpful plagiarism resources:

  • Document and Citation Resources for Writers:
  • The center provides helpful guidance and research aid for authors, including help making sure proper citations are provided.

  • Harvard University’s Tips to Avoid Plagiarism:
  • The resource explains the importance of proper citation, paraphrasing, and quoting, and it offers strategies to ensure that your writing is ethically sound and free from plagiarism.

  • is a comprehensive online resource that addresses plagiarism in writing and academia, offering information on prevention, content-checking tools, and resources for educators, students, and professionals to uphold academic integrity.

  • Zotero:
  • This free, open-source reference management tool helps students simplify source collection, organization, citation generation in multiple styles, and bibliography creation for research projects.

  • EndNote:
  • This is a reference management software designed for researchers, students, and professionals, facilitating the organization of large reference collections, bibliography creation, and citations in various styles commonly utilized in academic and research settings.

  • Mendeley:
  • This reference management tool allows users to organize research libraries, collaborate, and generate citations and bibliographies with seamless integration into word processing software, offering both free and paid versions and finding popularity among researchers and academics.

How to Properly Source Citations

Here are quick tips on how to properly source citations.

Use a Consistent Citation Style

Choose a specific citation style, such as MLA style, APA style, or Chicago, and stick to style rules throughout your document.

Different fields and publications have their preferred styles, so ensure you follow the appropriate one:

  • MLA style is common in the humanities.
  • APA style is targeted in the social sciences and beyond.

Chicago style consists of two systems:

  • Chicago author-date, used in the (social) sciences
  • Chicago notes and bibliography, common in the humanities

In addition to the commonly known citation styles mentioned, there are many specialized citation styles for other academic disciplines. When in doubt about which citation style to use, consulting with your instructor or advisor is an excellent approach. They can give you the style guide for the assigned topics or research project.

Include Essential Information

Each citation should include essential elements, such as the author’s name, publication date, title, source (e.g., book, article, website), and page numbers (if applicable). The exact format may vary based on the citation style you’re using.

For online sources, include the URL or DOI (Digital Object Identifier) if available. If the source might change over time (e.g., web pages), provide the date you accessed it.

Consider Parenthetical Citations

When you use information from a source within your text, include a parenthetical citation (in-text citation) to indicate the source. For example: (Chapman, 2019, p. 126) or (Johnson & Brown, 2020, p. 45).

Use Quotation Marks and Page Numbers

If you directly quote text from a source, enclose the quoted text in double quotation marks and include the page number. If you’re citing a source that you found cited in another work (secondary source), try to locate and cite the original source whenever possible.

Create a Full Bibliographic Entry

At the end of your document, create a comprehensive list of all sources used, known as a bibliography or reference list. Organize this list alphabetically by the author’s last name. If there’s no author, use the title.

Additional Writing Resources

  • Nine Basic Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing Style: These tips from the UC Berkeley Student Learning Center are designed to help you improve your writing for academic papers.
  • Writing Tips and Techniques for Your College Essay: Writing papers to get into college can be just as stressful, if not more stressful, than the papers you write in college. This list of tips can help you relax and figure out what needs to go on the paper.
  • Writing Rescue Guide for College Students: This guide breaks down the different writing styles, how they’re used, and what topics they address as well as common problems students have.
  • How to Write a Comparative Analysis: Comparative analysis papers are some of the most common types of college papers you’ll encounter. This guide breaks down how to do them well.
  • A Guide to Plagiarism and Paraphrasing: More than 60% of undergraduate students admit to cheating on writing assignments, but plenty of those students get caught and face serious consequences. This page explains how and when to cite sources and how to avoid plagiarizing accidentally.
  • Academic Writing Guide: Good academic writing is an important skill to have, and there are strategies you can use to make the process easier.
  • Six Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills: Writing is one of the oldest forms of communication still in existence, and being able to use that skill wisely is a great achievement. These tips can help improve your writing skills.
  • Eight Tips for Writing Your College Essay: College essays, or personal statements, are a common part of the application process, and they give colleges a good idea of where your writing skills are before admission.
  • College Essay Writing Tips: Use these tips as well as common do’s and don’ts to write winning college essays that show just how skilled of a writer you are.
  • Point of View in Academic Writing: This page includes a chart to help you understand the appropriate pronouns for your essays.
  • Five Tips to Make Your Writing More Exciting: Academic writing doesn’t have to be boring to read. A few different word choices can help to liven up your writing.
  • Tips for College Papers: What makes a great college paper? These essential writing tips give you a breakdown of what every successful paper must include.
  • Basic Steps in the Research Process: Writing requires research to create a well-constructed paper. Here are some of the basic steps you should take while doing research for your paper.
  • Writing in College: This in-depth guide walks you through everything you need to know about writing for college and how it differs from writing for high school.
  • College Essay Writing Tips: These tips will help you narrow down what you want to get out of a college admission essay to put your best foot forward.
  • Tips for Writing College Essays With Dyslexia and ADHD: Writing a good paper is tough enough for college students, but when you add dyslexia or ADHD, writing a paper can be even harder. These tips can help students find their motivation and put their thoughts on paper.
  • Essay Tips: These tips can help you write a strong essay that shows off your writing prowess.
  • Ten Tips for College Writing: When you’re writing college-level essays, it’s important to place value on the words you use. This guide gives some great tips on how to choose valuable words.
  • ADHD and College Writing: ADHD can make writing college papers more difficult. This page offers tips to make the process easier so papers feel like a less daunting task.

Frequently Asked Questions

What common problems do most college students encounter in dealing with writing?

Many students encounter common problems when dealing with academic writing. These challenges can be frustrating but are also opportunities for growth and improvement. The most common problems college students encounter are lack of clarity and focus, poor organization, grammar and style errors, plagiarism, citation and referencing issues, and coping with feedback.

What is the most important thing in academic writing?

The most essential element in academic writing is communication clarity. The goal of academic writing is to present complicated concepts, research findings, and arguments in a way that is both clear and understandable. Academic writing is far less successful when it lacks clarity.

What makes academic writing different from other writing?

Academic writing is distinct from other types of writing, such as creative or journalistic writing, due to its specific characteristics, style, and purpose. Unlike journaling and creative writing, the foundation of academic writing is data and research. College students must use proper citations and are required to avoid colloquial language and casual terms.

How can I find good sources for my research paper?

To begin research effectively, start with Google and Wikipedia. Follow these steps to find good sources:

  • Create a list of research terms.
  • Consider the source type needed for your assignment.
  • Explore library research guides.
  • Select sources aligned with your research question.
  • Review works cited sections for more materials.
  • Use “Cited by” in platforms like Google Scholar.
  • Seek guidance from university librarians.

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