What I wish students would understand about writing for a college class, part 3

When it comes to writing more effectively for a college class, I always hope my students will surpass my expectations. In order to do that, however, true scholars know some of the poorly-kept secrets of success…

1. Writing is a process, not an event.
Unlike what you may have experienced in high school, a first draft effort probably will read to your instructor like a first draft. When we are challenging to you excel, your first effort is likely not enough.

I had to learn this the hard way in college. Even though I constantly edited papers as I went, I’d still end up ultimately sending a first draft for a lot of assignments. My instructors would blast me for it. More than once, my perfectly planned paper was nothing more than C work to an instructor. When they asked to view a draft to compare to what I submitted, they were almost identical. Sure, I had changed some grammar, a few words, but ultimately, it was the same paper. That mindset had to change.

2. Reading the instructions is essential
That assignment my instructor handed out or posted on the course system wasn’t just for suggestions or fun. College instructors EXPECT students to know what the assignment is AND how they will be evaluated.

Yes, sometimes my assignment sheets are long (a whole page–sometimes 2 pages!), but that’s to help you in the event that you are preparing the night before–more on that later–and can’t ask me questions. Everything you need to know about my expectations is on paper (or a digital facsimile of paper!).

Keep in mind that I provide a scoring guide for EVERY assignment. That means you know how much not citing a source can hurt the grade. It also means that you know where to invest your time. For most assignments, content is the biggest effort, so you need to go through ALL content.

3. Procrastination is the enemy of success.
When completing an assignment, waiting until the night before (or even a couple of days before) it’s due is problematic. Not only are you scrambling to review resources, you’re also trying to flesh out complex ideas with almost no time to process. Occasionally, you may have a good flash of brilliance, but frequently, it’s a struggle to analyze, develop examples, and refer back to concepts.

In other words, DO WHAT WORKS! Spend time going over the assignment as soon as the instructor talks about it (before, if you have access to the information). In the weeks leading up to the due date, spend time with your instructor. I’ve had no fewer than 10 students come by to talk to me about their work this semester; those students do GREAT on the assignment, generally speaking.

Another post on this topic to come soon!


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