7 Rules to Writing in College

As the summer starts to wind down and supermarkets start their “Back to School” sales, that can only mean one thing… the start of a new school year.

Maybe you have a high schooler that you’re going to homeschool, and you’d like to prepare them for college. One of the biggest things that I had to learn is that high school writing is not the same as college writing. Usually, freshmen get slapped in the face because the same essays that were earning “A’s” in high school start to be labelled as “not really there yet” in college.

Here are a few rules that you can start using in your teaching to help your student prepare for college:

Rule #1: College Writing is About Displaying Insight, Not Knowledge

High school is generally about displaying knowledge and essays become more like book reviews. In college, the student is supposed to create knowledge, rather than display that they have merely read the article assigned to them. College is more than showing that you know things.

Rule #2: So What?

In college, one’s writing has to be significant. Why are you writing this essay? What does it matter to me? Without making the essay seem important to the reader, the essay will seem to be boring and irrelevant. Always ask the question, “so what?” in your essays. This will keep you on track toward making your writing significant.

Rule #3: Pick an Argument and Stick With It

It sounds like a no-brainer but it is easier said than done. You need to make your argument clearly known to the reader in your thesis, which I tackle in Rule #4. Without knowing your argument, the reader may not be able to figure out what your point is and why you’re writing the essay in the first place.

Rule #4: Your Thesis has to be Tight… Really Tight

In high school, your thesis might look something like this, “In this essay, I am going to show how video games were created”. That will definitely not work in college. Not only does it break Rule #1 above, but it’s too general. In college, you need to tighten up your thesis. Something like, “Through the use of video games, individual attention span is much shorter now compared to the year 1990”. Sounds like it could be true, right? I just pulled that off the top of my head. If you can prove your argument in the body of the essay, with quality evidence you might convince people what might not be true, which will come into play in Rule #5.

Another thing to remember when writing your thesis is that it has to be arguable. Again fitting in with Rule #1, if your thesis isn’t arguable then all you are doing in your essay is stating facts. Having an arguable thesis means that you are probably putting in your own insight on the subject because somebody else could always disagree.

Rule #5: Your Evidence Doesn’t Always Have to be Factual, as Long as it Supports Your Claim

You can have whatever evidence you want in your essay, as long as you can back it up with your own insight to support your argument. As bad as this sounds, it’s extremely helpful on the SAT/ACT essays.

Rule #6: Your Evidence Needs to be Tight Too

To be honest, everything should be tight. But especially your thesis and evidence. The days of Googling for research are over! In college, you are expected to use scholarly articles, which you can usually find on your college’s online library.

Rule #7: You are Not Limited to Three Body Paragraphs

High school generally teaches students to write five paragraphs in an essay: Introduction-3 body paragraphs-conclusion. In college, however, you can write as many paragraphs as you want, and with any amount of length! Just be sure to include a topic sentence, evidence, and plenty of your own analysis in each paragraph. If you think you have another claim, start a new paragraph!

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There you have it, the seven rules to writing in college. Next week, I will be covering a great method to writing body paragraphs that I learned at the Early College Alliance, so be sure to subscribe to our email list for more information about college writing!

Lastly, here are a few resources from the University of Toronto and Yale College that you can check out. Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “7 Rules to Writing in College

  1. Thank you for this post RR! I returned to college after a seven-year hiatus and I was required to take a writing placement exam. I made several of the mistakes you list herein; namely, I tried straddling the fence when it came to supporting my argument and I did not provide enough personal insight throughout the body of my essay. I scored a 6 out of a possible 8 and while this score wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t good enough to be enrolled in Honors English courses. The excuses I served up to myself about why I hadn’t done better, fueled me to take a closer look at what I could do better and retake the placement exam. Five days after the initial exam, I sat for round two. And by the way, I must mention that I am not the biggest fan of on-demand essay writing but I do like writing in general. This time around, I scored an 8 out of 8! I had forgotten some of the basic rules for writing essays (use it or lose it) and it’s great that you covered them here for those of us returning to college after a lengthy absence or for those stepping into college for the first time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great job on the exam! I share the same feelings when it comes to on-demand writing, I’ve never liked the concept at all.

      I thought it would be great to cover the basics because I know it was hard for me to adjust to college writing. Glad everything helped!

      Liked by 1 person

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