Writing in college seems much different from writing in high school. What am I supposed to be doing?
For a good general summary of the major differences between high-school and college-level writing expectations, see
For a guide to interpreting instructors’ specific assignment guidelines and figuring out what you’re expected to do, see
I have to write major research papers. How do I get started, and what do I need to know to do a good job?
The best way to start is to think realistically about what doing a research paper is: it's not really one task, but a series of complicated tasks requiring you to think and write in different ways. If you give full attention to each phase of the project—one at a time and again as many times as necessary later on—you can build a quality research paper that will be interesting to do and interesting to read when it’s finished. Visit the Research Paper Resource Room
The worst part of writing for me is getting started. How do I get over a bad case of Writer’s Block?
Most of the “syndromes” that keep writers from getting anything done can be cured. Visit the Anxious Writers’ Support Page
I usually get positive feedback about the content of my writing, but my grades suffer because of grammar and proofreading. What can I do?
Computers can give us a false sense of security. Many students believe that Grammar Check and Spell Check clean up documents for them. Click here to see an example of how thorough these tools are not.
- Recognize why proofreading matters.
Confusing sentences, careless word choice, grammar problems, missing punctuation, all of these things butt in between you and your message. They shape your readers’ perceptions of what you’re like, what you know, and how much you care about your work. Sometimes, they wreck your chances of being understood and taken seriously. Remember that your instructors are human. Poorly proofread documents take much longer to process, and there is no pleasure in reading them. In the real world, proofreading errors can lead to workplace confusion and conflict, as well as lawsuits.
- Practice strategies that work and apply them at the right time.
Reading and proofreading are two different things. Proofreading should be slow, focused, disciplined, and limited to small sections of text (one sentence at a time, for example). A sheet of colored paper works well to block out all but the sentence you’re reading at any one time. Proofreading helps you see the difference between what you wanted to say and what you actually typed.
- Remember that once is not enough.
The best writers proofread many times. Most writers are better editors and proofreaders than they give themselves credit for, but this is impossible to know if you don’t take the time to read your writing critically and find out. Most writers can solve many of their proofreading problems just by doing the act of re-reading several times on printouts, not on a computer screen.
Feedback from readers is crucial when you write; it helps to have a parent, roommate, or friend read over a paper. However, no one but you knows exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it, and nobody cares as much about your grade as you do. Getting into the proofreading habit keeps you in charge of your own destiny when writing papers.
- Work with a Writing Assistant at the Academic Learning Center.
Writing Assistants are not proofreaders. They won't fix a document for you. They are instructors, who will show you
- how to control your own writing
- how to practice focused re-reading strategies to improve your powers of observation
- how to identify the errors that creep into your writing repeatedly
See these links for help:
14 Foolproof Proofreading Tips
Suggestions for Proofreading Your Paper
Finding Common Errors