- Successful writers in all contexts think of writing as
- a process,
- a means to learn,
- a social act.
- Paying close attention to the terms of the assignment is essential for understanding the writing approach the instructor expects and for shaping the essay.
- Using the writing process maximizes the mental processes involved in thinking and writing. Take the time to explore prewriting strategies before drafting an essay in order to discover your ideas and how best to shape and communicate them.
- Avoid the temptation, after writing a draft, to consider the essay “done.” Revision is almost always needed, involving more significant changes than just quick corrections and editing.
- Virtually all college writing builds on the ideas of others; this is a significant part of the educational experience. In your writing, be sure you always make it clear in your phrasing and use of citations which ideas are your own or common knowledge and which come from other sources.
- College writing extends throughout the curriculum, from your first writing class through to your last term, including writing in class on examinations, group projects, and online courses. Through all this great variety of writing, however, the main principles of effective writing remain consistent. Work to develop your college writing skills at this early stage, and you will be well served throughout your education and into your career thereafter.
- Complete this sentence: The main reason I am in college right now is…
- Look for abstract or general words in what you just wrote. (For example, if you wrote, “I want a better job,” the key general word is “better.” If you wrote, “I need a good education for my future,” the general words are “good” and “education.” Circle the general word(s) in what you wrote.
- Write a sentence that gives your personal definition of your general words. (For example, if you wrote “I want a better job,” what makes a job better to you personally?)
- Now look at the why of what you’ve written. Why did you define your reason for being in college in the way that you did? Why this reason and not other reasons? Think about this for a minute, and then jot down a statement about why this is important to you.
- Now look at the what involved in your reasoning. What specifically do you expect as a result of being in college? What are you gaining? Try to come up with at least three or four specific examples related to your reasoning so far.
- Imagine you are assigned to write an essay for this prompt: “Argue for a particular benefit of a college education.” Look back at what you’ve written so far—is it headed in this direction? Write down a tentative thesis statement for such an essay.
- Look back at what you wrote for questions 5 and 6 to see if you have the beginning of a list of topics you might discuss in an assigned essay like this. Test out a possible outline by jotting down a few key phrases in the order in which you might discuss your ideas in the essay.
- Think about what you have just been doing in the previous questions. If you took this exercise seriously and wrote out your responses, you might actually be ready to begin writing such an essay—at least as prepared as you might be for an in-class exam essay. You have just gone through the first step of the writing process although very quickly. If you spent a few minutes thinking about your ideas, clarifying your reasons and thinking of developing your thesis through examples and explanations, you are in a better and stronger position to begin writing than if you’d started immediately with the prompt. Your essay will be much more successful.
Outside the Book
- Use this exercise for the next paper you write in any of your college classes. Your goal is not merely to write a great paper in that class but to learn what writing process techniques work best for you. Plan to begin just as soon as you are given the assignment. Try to use each and every one of these strategies (review them in the chapter), even if some things seem repetitious. Your goal is to find out which techniques work best for you to stimulate the most thought and lead to the best writing.
- Read the assignment and make sure you understand exactly what is expected.
- Sit down with a piece of paper and jot some notes as you brainstorm about your topic.
- Talk with another student in the class about what you’re thinking about your topic and what you might say about it.
- Write a journal entry, written strictly to yourself, about what you think you might do in your paper.
- Write down some questions to yourself about what your paper will be covering. Start your questions with “why,” “how,” and “what.”
- Send a classmate an e-mail in which you describe one of the points you’ll make in your essay, asking them for their opinion about it.
- When your classmate responds to your e-mail, think about what they say and prepare a written response in your notes.
- Write a statement of purpose for the paper and a brief outline listing key points.
- Show your outline to your instructor or TA and ask if you’re on the right track for the assignment. (You can ask other questions, too, if you have them, but try this step even if you feel confident and have no questions at all. You might be surprised by their response.)
- Write a fuller outline—and then go ahead and draft the paper.
- Return to this exercise after receiving the paper back from your instructor. If you feel the paper was successful, think back to the techniques you used and circle steps above that you felt were particularly helpful and contributed to your success. If you are dissatisfied with the paper, it’s time to be honest with yourself about what happened. When unhappy about their grade on a paper, most students admit they didn’t spend as much time on it as they should have. Look back at the list above (and other writing strategies earlier in this chapter): what should you have done more fully or more carefully to make sure your paper got off to a good start?
Make an Action List
My worst writing habits have been the following:
To overcome these bad habits in college, I will take these steps:
I generally make the following specific errors (things my past teachers have marked):
I can learn to correct errors like these when proofreading and editing by
I generally rush through the following stage: (circle one)
I will spend this much time on this stage in my next college paper:
I will use these strategies to ensure that I successfully move through this stage:
I am most likely to need help in these areas of writing:
I will use these resources if I need help in these areas in my next course paper: