Think you can get away with an easy, three-point thesis for your American history paper? Think again. You can’t hit the easy button for your final research paper. You need to learn how to write a college paper.
Ready to ditch the formulaic essay and learn how to write a college paper?
Writing at a college level comes as a pretty major shock—but also as a pleasant challenge. I came into my freshman writing class on my first day excited to learn. I left feeling confused, my world flipped upside down after my professor told us to forget everything we thought we knew about writing.
The method I learned in middle school couldn’t hold a candle to any type of “scholarly writing,” but it seemed to be a legitimate technique. However, the rigidity of the structure made it so my essays never really went anywhere. “The five-paragraph essay is shaped intellectually like a closed loop. But in college, we presume that not all ideas can fit in the same shape,” American University Writing Professor Sarah Marsh said. Academic writing is more about learning and exploring ideas than merely explaining facts.
Academic writing is meant to be a discussion. Rather than restating facts or plugging components into an equation, the piece shows the metacognition—the thought process—of the authors while they explored their topic. “It’s only by allowing ideas to take new forms that we can produce new knowledge, which is the primary purpose of the university,” Marsh said. Writing for college is about complication and rigor, not just accuracy. Intellectual curiosity is key.
Embrace the Freedom to Write About What You Want
College grants students with tons of freedom, both socially and academically. But it comes at the cost of feeling totally on your own. Many writing assignments often contain little to no prompt, and the ones that do are very broad. Exploring your interests remains the main goal of college. “There are emotional and moral hazards to ignoring the things that make you feel intellectually, and perhaps even spiritually, alive,” Marsh said.
Getting to write what you want means figuring out what you want. “A thesis is something that arises from research and thought, something that changes and evolves as you delve further into the subject,” said AU writing professor Maya Brown. It involves really exploring your interests and pushing yourself to dig deeper and build on your ideas.
Close out of Facebook and YouTube, put your phone away and really focusing. When writing, you need to hear your thoughts and your thoughts alone. You need to hear yourself think.
Learn how to Write For Yourself
The biggest challenge with college writing is learning to write for yourself. “I often speak to students who ask me if their writing is ‘right’ or if it’s ‘what I want’,” Marsh said. “But it’s my job to show students how to write what they want, not what I want.”
Learn how to think rather than what to think. That rises above all the other “goals of college” as the true purpose. “College writing is not only about writing but also about how to think,” said Brown.
Writing lets you put your ideas down and see them evolve. Trapping your writing in a formulated style or with a one-topic train of thought inhibits growth. But once you take off the training wheels of the comforts of high-school style writing, you get to speed off in any direction with reckless regard, exploring places you never could before.