First-Year Preceptorial

Tips from a Precept Student

A few tips from one college first-year to another (R. Lanoir, class of 2015) 

The jump from high school to college writing can often be a cause of shock and despair for incoming first-years. In most cases though, you don’t need to completely disregard what you learned in high school. Use what you know about writing as a building block to move on to bigger and better things. I’ve compiled a few of the best tips for what will take your writing from high school to college level (along with some practice.) The key is to use the following strategies in your writing—strategies that will help you reach your audience, impress your professors, and hopefully get you that ‘A’ you want.

1.) Organize, organize, and organize: You already know this from high school but it's good to be reminded— organization is key to any well-written essay. Make sure that the way you introduce topics in your introduction is how you organize your paragraphs. Your organization will weaken or strengthen your argument, and it will set it apart from everyone else.

2.) Forget about the standard five-body paragraph rule. Forget what you learned in high school—there is no magic number of paragraphs that you need in your paper. That being said, the length of each of your paragraphs is up to your discretion as well. For the sake of your reader, you don't want paragraphs over a page long, though, and you will probably use a very short paragraph only to achieve a particular effect. Don’t be bound by rigid rules; do what makes sense for your assignment and what you are writing.

3.) Give credit where it is due. Like you learned in high school, citing your sources is important, but in college it is crucial. Improper or an altogether lack of citations could result in serious punishment. Always ask your professor what the preferred method of citation is, and make sure you always give credit for ideas and data that isn’t your own.

4.) Always take into account your audience. Are you writing to your professor, or to someone who has no knowledge on your topic? Make sure you know. It will help you make decisions about an appropriate tone, appropriate language, and how much background information you need to provide your reader.

5.) Argue for and against yourself. A lot of college writing is argument.  Don't be afraid to include a counterargument in your writing!  Counterarguments show that you have done your research and that you have considered what your “opponents” might say against your claim. They will only strengthen your writing.

6.) Check the last sentences of all your paragraphs! In argument essays, the end of a paragraph is your best chance to convince your reader. You need solid evidence and reasoning throughout the paragraph, but the final sentence is a powerful place that should never be taken for granted. Don't end on a minor detail or a quote. And don't use this powerful place to introduce your next paragraph (as some high school teachers tell you). Make sure the last sentence of each paragraph is strong and ties back to what you’re trying to get across in that paragraph— tie it back to your thesis to demonstrate the “bigger picture.”

7.) Pathos. Ethos. Logos. Never heard of them? Well, depending on your Precept, you may become quite familiar with them. Long story short, these terms stand for appealing to your reader's emotion, using plenty of logic, and creating credibility as a writer. If you learn to balance all three of these, your paper can be much stronger; the proper use of the three appeals can make your paper stand out.

There you have it: seven tips for college writing. A few of them you learned in high school, while others may be new ideas you’ll learn when you get to Union. They’re all ways to set your writing apart from others and take it to the next level.