Writing in College: An Orientation

The Writing Wing at Elizabethtown College knows there are many aspects in the transition from high school to College. We're here to help members of the incoming class with a very important one: writing at the college level. This page serves as your orientation to college-level writing. When you get to campus in the fall, we'll be here to help.

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne

Why are solid writing skills important in college and beyond?

It’s important to understand that writing remains a key means of communication in many fields. Scientists are often expected to write about their research, business people regularly write sales pitches and memos, and teachers often write for parents and administrators via newsletters, emails and memos. Some fields require some surprisingly important writing—occupational therapists write appeals letters to insurance companies when a patient is denied coverage, and engineers write letters of introduction to potential clients when trying to secure a job. As a result, writing is often required in college as we help you prepare for a meaningful and successful life and career.

What should students expect to write in college?

Many professors require research papers in their classes, but some classes call for different forms of writing. Some professors may assign argumentative papers or literary criticisms. Other classes call for a more creative or specialized form of writing--there are short story classes, for instance, and business classes where a professor may assign a written sales pitch. The length of assignments can vary from one or two pages to twenty or more.

How is college-level writing different from high school writing?

It’s important to understand that standards for college-level writing are generally higher than in high school. The standards in college are closer to professional standards than scholastic standards. In other words, an A paper in high school might be a B or even a C paper in college. College professors expect a paper to be thoroughly researched, well organized and thoughtful. They also expect it to be written with proper grammar throughout and with style.

What can a new college student do differently to write well at the college level?

First, understand that good writing is the result of a process that takes time and effort. Papers that are thrown together the night before they are due are often below average or unacceptable. Good writing requires proper brainstorming, research, drafting, revising and proofreading. Be prepared to budget your time properly before a paper is due and dedicate ample effort to writing it. Students who need help budgeting their time might find it helpful to use an assignment calculator such as this one from the University of Minnesota.

What are some of the most common problems professors see in college writing?

  • Improper grammar
  • Wordiness

These are two of the most common problems. Remember that good writing is clear and understandable, and that means punctuating correctly and avoiding extraneous words and phrases. It also means avoiding redundancies, because thoughtful writing says something new and interesting with each sentence and paragraph. Other commonly reported problems are weak content and organization, so it’s important to remember that quality research, planning and outlining make a difference. All of these problems lead to lower grades. If you want to review your grammar and punctuation skills, check out our tutorials and complete the exercises.

What can a new student do to prepare for college-level writing?

First of all, read. Reading familiarizes us with the language, often in ways we don’t even realize. Reading almost anything has benefits, even Twilight novels and Sports Illustrated in addition to research articles. Secondly, brush up on the grammar rules you were likely taught in middle school. Finally, practice good writing every time you write—use proper grammar and punctuation in your texts, emails and Facebook posts.

What resources are available at Elizabethtown College if I want help with my writing?

The Writing Wing offers tutoring to any student who needs or wants help to become a better writer. Tutors are friendly and qualified upperclass students. We are not a proofreading service; in other words, our tutors will not edit your papers for you, but will help you understand how to improve your writing and earn better grades. Appointments are easy to make in Room 226 of the Baugher Student Center.