Five Characteristics of College Writing
College professors expect your work to be original. Being original, of course, means not plagiarizing, but it also means being creative and taking a fresh approach to topics. You can and should think beyond what you read or hear in lectures. Think beyond what your friends are doing and saying. In other words, be an individual; do not regurgitate commonly accepted ideas. In other cases, you want to avoid recreating or re-arguing topics that are well established. For example, a paper arguing that education is important would probably not be original. If you decide to tackle an established topic, be sure to use new sources and to discuss new perspectives.
College professors expect you to ground your writing in evidence, especially scholarly secondary sources. With careful organization and planning, evidence supports your assertions. There are many types of evidence. You are probably already familiar with using personal experience in your writing. Cultural artifacts, such as films, novels, and songs, are also a good form of evidence. In college, you will frequently use scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are those written by subject-matter experts.
You will always want to be sure your evidence or sources are relevant. Consider the following example: Gone with the Wind, either the book or film, would NOT be an acceptable source for writing a paper about what actually happened during the Civil War and Reconstruction era; however, it would be an excellent source for writing about how the 1860s and 1870s are presented, remembered, and celebrated. For scholarly information on this topic, sources such as the American Historical Quarterly or monographs by an academic press would be an appropriate and credible source.
“Easy reading is damn hard writing” (Nathaniel Hawthorne). Writing is NOT easy. Writing takes time and practice. Even the best, award-winning authors always revise. The first copy of an essay is never going to be the best copy, so be sure to start early and allow time to rewrite and improve your papers. College professors expect your best work. Never submit anything that you wouldn’t mind seeing published. Even with revision, an essay is never finished, is never perfect, but it generally does have a due date. Simply, writing is a process.
The best part of college writing is the freedom that comes along. College is one of the few places where you can write about virtually anything and have access to a countless range of sources. College professors expect you to take advantage of this freedom and be independent, free, and creative with your writing. With all of this freedom, however, comes a great deal of responsibility. In college, YOU are responsible for planning, meeting deadlines, and giving your best effort. In other words, start early.
College professors will expect you to analyze, explain, and create, not summarize and recall information. When you analyze a source, you are asking the how and whyquestions. For example, why is Harry Potter a good series? What specifically makes this series “good”? What does “good” mean? Analyzing means to evaluate (both the pros and cons), to look at something in a different light, to consider how something is put together, and to ask why it’s put together that way, for example. This is very different than summarizing. With a summary, you would simply retell the basic whos and whats of Harry Potter.