Tips for Success as a College Writer

Get comfortable talking to your Professors

With more variety of assignments and audiences, you’ll likely need more clarification as just what your teachers expect from you. The best way to gain that understanding is to ask, face to face. You might even ask if you can share a draft of your writing with the teacher to get some direct feedback before the final document is due. Or at least ask—if you haven’t been shown some in class—if your professor can show you any models of successful essays. This can be helpful in gaining a clearer sense of the professor’s expectations. Nervous? Not sure how to approach your professor? This guide from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio might help.


Be aware too that professors may have contradictory expectations for you. Your biology professor may insist that your lab reports be written in passive voice while your English professor may insist that your essays use active voice. Both have their reasons. So be sure you respect the expectation of your audience, following their guidelines. And be sure you know the difference between passive and active voice. Again this Writing Studio handout on Passive and Active Voice helps clarify the differences.



Take Advantage of Available Writing Help

If your college has a Writing Studio or Writing Center, you should take advantage of it by visiting to get help for you writing. What should you expect to do there? First, you will need to tell your consultant the basics of your essay: prompt, length, due date, etc. It is also helpful if you can explain your argument. Then you will need to read over your draft. Don’t be surprised if the consultant asks you to read it aloud. As you read, listen to the quality of the writing and consider, one chunk at a time, whether the writing makes clear, engaging points and whether each chunk advances your argument. Mark spots that you want to edit or discuss further. It is helpful to have a copy of your essay for the consultant to mark as well. Once you’ve finished reading the essay and talking about your questions/concerns, set some goals. Thank your consultant and get to work on meeting those goals.

The consultants at the Vanderbilt Writing Studio offer this advice to you about how to best take advantage of your college writing center.



Revise, Revise, Revise

Remember that revision is not just a process of patching up weak spots or correcting mechanical errors in your writing. Joseph Harris in Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts notes,

An irony of revising is that writers often become so preoccupied with fixing what isn’t going right in a text that they neglect to build on what is. The upshot of such attempts at remediation is often not a more interesting essay but simply one that is a little less weak. In revising you want not only to deal with the problems of a draft but also to develop its strengths. (113)

The Vanderbilt Writing Studio tips for Revision might be helpful to you here. One clear distinction that Deann Armstrong, a consultant at the Vanderbilt Writing Studio, makes between college and high school writing is that college writing should demonstrate more nuance. The best way to achieve that nuance is through careful revision.

Finally if you are not sure whether your essay is satisfactorily complete, try asking some of the questions on this essay checklist.

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