There are a few things that are the same in nearly every college student’s experience.
- You’re going to have more freedom—and, therefore, more responsibility.
- You’re going to make friends (trust me).
- You’re going to write. A lot.
With this last one, I know what you may be thinking: I’m not an English major, so I won’t have to write as much.
That’s a fair point, and I may be biased as an English alum, but here’s the truth about writing in college: everyone does it!
- Scientific lab reports
- Education lesson plans
- Nursing patient care plans
- Campaign strategy outlines
- Reflective exercises and long-answer exams
- Personal statements and job application materials
No matter the types of classes you take or the kind of major or minor you are, you’re going to write. A lot. So, you might as well have strong writing skills as you dive into papers, projects, and presentations galore.
Here are some tips and resources to help you out as you embark on becoming a better writer.
Tips for Your Writing Process
1. Don't wait until the last minute to write
Okay, I may have been guilty of procrastinating a writing assignment or two and pulling an all-nighter as an English major. And even though I always got my papers done on time, it was much easier and smoother when I planned ahead.
Successful writing means writing more than one draft and having more than one round of revision. You need to let good (and even not-so-good) ideas sit before you can improve them. Write a little bit at a time and spread yourself out with breaks, so you don’t hit burnout before the deadline.
Don’t write anything the night before it’s due and never assume that your professor will grant you an extension. Show some respect for deadlines—you want to get into the habit of following through as early in your college career as you can.
2. Writing is learning
Don’t get me wrong, getting good grades is important in college, but it doesn’t come close to realizing your growth. As someone who’s been out applying for jobs, I can personally attest that your grades don’t define you—your skills do.
Writing especially is a long-term skill that requires long-term commitment to improvement.
You’re not going to be able to learn how to write overnight. Some of your assignments will go really well; others, not so much. I know it sounds cliché, but moments of failure are learning opportunities and detours to success.
If you get a low grade on something, accept it as a chance to grow and ask your professor how you could have written something differently. They’re there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask this.
3. Don't play the blame game
Don’t blame your professor. And don’t blame yourself.
At the end of the day, every writing assignment has its own unique challenges, so you need to treat each assignment differently.
Although no one will be able to predict or project your grade, you can choose what you get out of an assignment. Commit to the process to commit to success.
4. Ask your professor what they want
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’re likely not going to do well on a writing assignment if you don’t actually pay attention to what your professor is looking for.
Listen up when they explain the purpose of the assignment. Ask them why they want you to write something instead of take a multiple-choice exam.
I’ll give you a hint: probably because writing allows you to take all the information you’ve learned and apply it to something in your personal life or something that interests you. You can show your personality in a writing assignment, which is super empowering, but not on a test.
Take extra notes in the margins of your assignment sheet. As you write and revise your work, these notes will guarantee your goals and your professor’s goals are on the same page (c’mon, you knew that pun was coming eventually).
5. Expectations for reading and writing in college are different
Remember when Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz said to Toto, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”? Well, this is how a lot of students feel when they come face-to-face with college writing. Compared to high school, it’s new territory. But just because it’s new doesn’t mean it has to be scary.
Think about the feeling you get when you’re exposed to a good paper, project, or presentation. It builds authority by incorporating multiple sources. It puts a new spin on the information and offers a different perspective. It makes the topic understandable and human-friendly. You just know it’s good because you can sense the work it took to make it happen.
No matter your field of study, everyone can create phenomenal papers, projects, and presentations and give their readers and audience members goosebumps.
You know that feeling exists—all you need to do is believe in yourself and give yourself a fighting chance by keeping these five tips in mind when beginning your writing process.
1. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
Purdue OWL is a goldmine for free resources related to writing, from essays and outlines, to thesis statements and paragraphs and paragraphing, to MLA and APA citations, and more.
2. Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Thesauruses
If you’re looking to do some general searches, these mainstays are great to save as bookmarks:
3. Library Research Desk
The Research Desk at WSU’s Darrell Krueger Library was my go-to campus spot when I needed to prep for research.
We have a variety of talented librarians who not only know a lot about the best practices for keywords, databases, and more, but also are specialists in each major and minor.
Bonus: no appointment necessary—just walk in.
(Want some research writing guidance without leaving your room? Check out our blog post on writing a research paper in six steps.)
4. The Writing Center
Finally, housed right in the English Department is the Writing Center, where you can receive free, one-on-one tutoring on any of your writing assignments. This isn’t exclusive to English majors and minors, either. Everyone on campus is welcome.
Writing Center tutors are graduate students who have gone through certification training. The best part: they can relate to you as a student, and they can help you better understand and select from the various strategies and purposes for reading and writing during college.
I know that’s a lot to digest all at once but save this guide for when you need it or pass it along to a friend who you know is feeling stuck with a current assignment.
Write on, Warriors!