5 Things You Learn in College Writing That Contradict Everything You Learned in High School

The transition from high school to college can be a rough one. You’re in a new environment and your success is entirely dependent on you. Once you start college, however, you’ll find a lot of new resources available to you–the key is making good use of them. Here are five things that have led to successful essay writing my freshman and sophomore years of college:

1. Keep It Simple Stupid

Don’t get writer’s block trying to come up with interesting synecdoches or a genius metaphor. Focus on what your idea or concept is. If you have a big, groundbreaking idea or a quirky, revolutionary way of looking at something, make sure it is clear to your readers. Readers will be more impressed if they can understand your ideas than if you create a symmetrical essay shaped like Jay Leno’s head.

Jay Leno

Jay Leno should not be making cameos in your essays

2. “I Am a Leaf in The Wind”

Flow is everything, whether you’re piloting Serenity  in for a “safe” landing or writing a paper on linguistics. Professors have a lot of papers to grade and reading a clunky paper is both frustrating and more time consuming. Flow keeps your writing moving–don’t let readers see where you got stuck. In addition, clunky writing simply highlights all of the mistakes you may have made.

Firefly Pilot Wash in control of his ship

Firefly Pilot Wash–In control of his ship


3. Your Ideas Drive the Essay

The prompt is a starting off point, your ideas are the fuel. A prompt’s main goal in life is to spark your brain and get your mind to interact. You may not like the prompt, don’t let that get you stuck. Perhaps you can challenge the prompt, perhaps you can take the prompt further. Professors don’t want you to sit around banging your head on your desk trying to only answer the prompt. A lot of prompts will be about something going on around you. Prompts are conversation starters, go be the life of the party.

Back to The Future Delorean--More than a car

Back to The Future Delorean–More than a car

4. Welcome to the Jungle

In high school, most of your essays probably looked the same but with different topics based what on the subject you were writing the essay for. If that is like flipping through a book on different cat breeds, college will be like going to the zoo. Depending on what class you are in, you may have to use APA or some other “new” form of citation. Your essays will look drastically different because of this. You will find that speech composition will feel like an entirely new form of writing compared to that paper on racism in early American literature. Your writing style will change as each class you take will ask you for different emphases and formats. You will not give a speech verbatim, but you also won’t be improving that American Lit essay. Footnotes put your citations closer to the cited material for that History paper, but your English professor probably won’t appreciate the distraction. You may even take a class on writing for the web like I am now, where your writing shouldn’t be as long as it would be in a paper. Be aware of the genres you are asked to write in and take notice of the ones that you prefer.

Kittens in a basket--AKA most of my high school essays if I were to look through them today...

Kittens in a basket–AKA most of my high school essays if I were to look through them today…

5. Rules Change

The rules for citation and grammar are constantly changing and chances are, they have changed a little bit even from high school. Stay up to date with these changes, websites such as Purdue OWL: MLA Formatting and Style Guide are great to refer to for whatever format you need to write in. I have the site bookmarked and have used it for Science, History, and English papers. It’s great to have open, even when you know what you’re doing. Have a quote for an odd source you didn’t learn how to format in high school? Purdue is likely to have a suggestion, if not an example. From anthologies to tweets, Purdue has your back. Here’s a link: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/

At the same time, realize that some rules no longer apply. For example, there are three different schools of thought on comma usage. Just make sure you write in complete sentences and that there is some reasoning behind the choices you make.

Grammar Referees--Sometimes you get to make the call...

Grammar Referees–Sometimes you get to make the call…

4 thoughts on “5 Things You Learn in College Writing That Contradict Everything You Learned in High School

  1. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this topic. Especially the Jay Leno remark-that was funny. I like how you brought up the different citations about the different topics, and giving the URL for those who didn’t know about Purdue. I also like the comment about not getting writer’s block on topics you don’t like. I still manage to find myself in that category.You did a great job once again!

  2. I loved your topics, especially the one about college is like going to the zoo! I completely agree that the formats depend on which classes your taking and that it is difficult at some times. I loved your kitten picture and all the other ones. I like that you gave a link to the site you used in tip number 5. This is very helpful for people to know that there are materials like this out on the web.

  3. Pingback: Writing Advice for New Freshman | Teaching Text Rhetorically
  4. Pingback: Blogging in WordPress – Teaching Text Rhetorically

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s