Transitioning to College Level Writing
Writing in college is significantly different than writing in high school. There is a greater expectation for evidence of critical thinking and adhering to standardized formatting. Students who did very well with writing assignments in high school may find themselves struggling to meet the expectations of college professors. Writing in college requires more than good grammar and reporting the ideas of experts. Students are expected to demonstrate deep thinking, present evidence, and communicate ideas clearly.
This page provides guidelines on the major components of academic writing. Please see the side navigation for other helpful resources on writing in college.
Getting started with an introduction can be the hardest part of writing a paper. The approach to composing an introduction varies between disciplines. For example, an introduction to a Physics lab report is going to look very different than an introduction to a narrative essay. Always follow the guidelines of your assignment. Here are some tips to compose an introduction.
The first sentence often draws the reader in; this is called a hook. Introductions typically move from general to specific information. Use the sentences after your hook to include any necessary context or background information. The reader should be able to tell what your paper is about and the claim, argument, interpretation, or point-of-view you will be supporting. End your introduction with a thesis statement that articulates the major claim of the paper.
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If you are having trouble getting your introduction started, skip it and come back after writing some of your supporting body paragraphs. Once you have some of your other paragraphs written, that writing can help you determine what to put into your introduction paragraph.
The thesis statement is the most important sentence in your paper. It is typically a single sentence that articulates the writer's major claim. The body paragraphs provide evidence and reasoning to support the claim made in the thesis statement. The thesis should give your paper direction and provide a focus for you and your readers by articulating the central argument or claim. Expect to go through several drafts as you develop and refine your claim.
A good thesis statement has two main parts:
Statement / Reason
Topic / Opinion
Main idea / Feeling
Making a strong thesis statement
When reviewing a working thesis, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I answer the question my instructor put forth in the essay prompt?
- Is my thesis too obvious? If no one would argue with your thesis then it's possible you're simply providing a summary or stating a fact rather than making an argument.
- Is my thesis specific? Often a student's first stab at a thesis is broad or vague. Examine the evidence to help you develop a specific, strong argument.
- Does your thesis pass the "so what?" and "how and why" tests? If the reader's first response is "so what?" then you need to clarify or connect to a larger issue. Similarly, if the reader is left wondering "how?" or "why?" then you need to give the reader better guidance on your position.
The ideal place for your thesis statement is at the end of your introduction. Your thesis statement should be reflected in each of your supporting body paragraphs.
For more information on thesis statements, visit:
- Purdue OWL's guide to creating a thesis statement
- Developing a thesis statement when writing about fiction
- Developing a debatable thesis statement
When writing a body paragraph, it is important to give it a topic sentence. This should be the first sentence of that paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should be information that supports or elaborates on the topic sentence. The sentences in this paragraph should act as support to hold up your idea. The paragraph should end by relating your supporting information back to your thesis statement from your introduction paragraph.
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Many assignments will require that the information presented in the body paragraphs predominantly comes from your own words and thoughts. If you are going to summarize information or quote from another source, it should be kept to a minimum and be used as evidence to support the main claim of the paragraph. A paper is your place to show instructors the information you have learned and to defend your argument.
Conclusions often wrap up all of the thoughts from the paper and make provide closure to the discussion you have presented. Provide a brief summary of your main points, but do not simply restate the introduction.
A good approach is to look to the future now that you have presented your argument. For instance, what can happen now that your points have been discussed? Another approach is to reflect on what you have learned through writing your paper.
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One of the most important pieces of advice for writing a paper is to just start writing. The introduction tends to be the hardest part of a paper to write, so don’t write it first. A blank screen is very intimidating. It can help to start writing your body paragraphs and then come back to your introduction later.
If you feel like you have written all of your thoughts already and still need more pages, go back to the brainstorming/prewriting stage. This can help you come up with new ideas for adding more supporting body paragraphs.
Writing tutors are also wonderful resources to bounce ideas off of and overcome writer's block.