Writing for college or university isn’t easy, but here are some easy ways to improve your skill!
As a grad student, I spent four semesters as a teaching assistant. That meant everything from attending undergrad lectures to leading tutorials to marking assignments and exams. And even though I was a TA for communications courses, many students transitioning out of high school had a hard time with strong and effective university-level writing.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but I found some pretty common issues that students struggled with. Here are some easy solutions for you to combat them to improve your writing for college and university assignments.
1. Start EARLY!!!!!
Even if you can physically write a paper in a day or a few hours, please don’t! Prioritize and manage your time so you don’t have to scramble to write it all at the last minute.
2. Review the assignment guidelines and answer ALL the questions
Read through the instructions and make sure you discussed all of the required questions, topics, and points. After that, check, double-check and triple-check that you’ve met all expectations.
3. Avoid generalizations
Please, do not begin your introduction with “Since the beginning of time…” or “In today’s society…” It does not contribute to your paper and there is no sound evidence to back up this claim. Your introduction and all of your points should be relevant to your topic, so it all supports your thesis statement.
4. Avoid passive voice
You want your writing to be engaging and easy to follow. One way to achieve this is to avoid and eliminate all passive language. The subject should be the one doing the action. Therefore, it shouldn’t have the action done to it. This point is tough to explain to students, but once you understand it and can spot it in your own writing, it’s a true gamechanger. Here are a couple of examples:
E.g. “The brakes were slammed on by her” VS “She slammed on the brakes”
E.g. “It is evident that…” VS. “Evidently…”
Which one sounds better? If you choose the options on the right side, then you can successfully identify active voice, woo!
5. Give yourself time to edit and proofread
This is a tip from my grade 12 English teacher. Finish your work early enough that you can leave your paper alone for a day or two. That way, when you revisit it, you’ve created some distance between you and your words. This will allow you to see grammar errors and fix confusing sentences more easily.
6. Ask for assistance
Visit your professor’s office hours. Even just connect with them online. Or make an appointment with campus writing services to review your work and help you find a direction for your paper. You can also speak with your TA or ask a question after the lecture. Basically, use the opportunities given to you to discuss your work!
7. Make sure your paper is clear and concise
Can you explain something more clearly? Can more than one sentence be combined to make your idea more succinct? Are there some words you can remove to get to your point quicker?
8. Write in your own voice
Use the language you would use. Writing for college and university doesn’t mean you have to “sound smarter” with big words or phrases you don’t completely understand. In fact, that’s usually less successful than just sticking to what you know (provided that the above tips are followed).
9. Review your feedback
Don’t skip over this one! If you really want to improve your writing, take the time to read over your strengths, as well as potential areas for development. Naturally, this will help you do better in the future. Remember, the main goal is improving your writing itself. Do that with the above tips, and hopefully, your grades will follow suit!
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