High School Writing vs. College Writing

First year college students nearly always struggle with the transition from high school writing to college writing. Often, this struggle occurs because college professors have different expectations regarding structure and argument than those that are usually found in high schools. College writing differs most significantly from high school writing in the following ways:

In high school, you may have been taught to construct five paragraph I-Triple-P-C essays and other short forms of writing. College writing strongly discourages this  five-paragraph essay format, and instead pushes students to break out of the limits imposed by such a rigid structure. This  introduction/three-supporting-points/conclusion strategy is simply not  practical for college assignments. Be prepared to explore alternative strategies in your writing.

In high school, you may have learned to include a thesis statement in your papers, usually somewhere near the end of the first paragraph. Most college writing also depends on thesis statements, but they may look very different from the statements you are used to seeing and writing. A typical high school thesis statement might look like this: In this paper, I will discuss Abigail Williams’ motive in The Crucible. A typical college thesis, on the other hand, might look more like this: In The Crucible, Abigail Williams denounces Elizabeth Proctor and other women from her village in an attempt to win John Proctor for herself. As you can see, the sample college thesis statement sets up a specific argument and takes a position on that argument. In addition, it gives the reader some warning regarding the kind of evidence to expect in the remainder of the paper. Readers will expect, at minimum, information about the relationship between Abigail and John, between Elizabeth and John, and between Abigail and Elizabeth.  College thesis statements should always be specific, opinionated, and deniable.  

A research paper in high school might have involved collecting information from Yahoo!® or Google® and re-presenting that information in a book-report format--that is, research for research’s sake. College research papers are nearly always argument-based: you collect evidence in order to make a point, not just to prove that you found five sources. Moreover, college papers require a different, more scholarly level of source material. While the Internet can be a great research tool, college students need to learn the difference between unreliable “free web” sources and more reliable “scholarly” sources. Anything the library pays for through subscription service is generally an acceptable research source. Scholarly and professional-level books, websites and peer-reviewed journals are even better.

Though it varies by professor, most college papers are typed, double-spaced, with standard margins. They are usually in 12-point font, either Times New Roman or Arial. Unless professors specifically ask for one, papers are usually submitted without a cover page; similarly, college papers rarely include plastic binders and other types of folders. Graphics, such as charts or clipart, are sometimes permitted, but they should be professional looking and do not count as page space.

Adapted from, from the Temple University Writing Center


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