Once you walk into your first college class, you are subject to much higher expectations for course work. Your reading assignments will be more frequent and lengthier; your assignments will be more challenging; and the type of college papers you must produce will be more complex and held to a higher standard than is typical for high school students. It is highly unlikely that your professors will do the following:
- Receive a rough draft, make corrections and suggestions for improvement, and then receive a final draft for ultimate grading.
- Assist you in improving your writing, unless it is a writing course with a lab component.
It is highly likely that your professor will do the following:
- Read and assign a grade to an essay or paper that you submit
- Assign a poor grade if the piece of writing does not meet his/her expectations
If your writing assignments result in poor grades, there may be a number of reasons, and there are also methods for fixing any of the issues you may have with your research and writing skills.
Mis-understanding/Failing to Adhere to the Specifics of the Assignment
This is one of the most common mistakes students make. When a college paper assignment is given, they fail to read carefully from their syllabi or listen to their professors’ specifications. Frequently, a details of a writing assignment will be contained in the syllabus, so be certain that you read them very carefully and stick exactly to what your professor wants. If the assignment specifies that you compare and contrast, then that is exactly what you must do; if you are to analyze an outside reading assignment, then you are to read it carefully, take it apart, summarizing the points the author is making and commenting on those points. If you are asked to evaluate, you are being asked to make a judgment – are the author’s points or opinions valid? Why or why not? If you are to write a book review discussing one of its themes, you will not be providing a plot summary.
The Fix: Read the assignment very carefully and look for key words – compare, contrast, analyze, discuss, respond to, evaluate, describe, etc. If you do not understand the assignment, contact your professor of the TA. Do not do a thing until you know exactly what is expected of you.
Too Broad or Too Narrow a Topic
You will usually be given a minimum and maximum length for a writing assignment, ad your topic must be of a breadth and depth to “fit.” When you choose a topic that is too broad, you will become overwhelmed with the amount of information there is and may fall into a trap of leaving out crucial research and points, in order to stay within the length requirement. If your topic is too narrow, there will not be enough information to meet the minimum requirement, you may try to add “fluff” to fill pages, and your grade will definitely suffer.
The Fix: If you have to choose your own topic within a broad area, select a couple that are of interest. Contact your professor or TA and ask for advice. They are usually happy to help! If your topic is too broad, you can probably narrow it down to one or more aspects; if it is too narrow, better pick something else. Part of writing a college paper is selecting a topic that is correct for the required length!
You are in college now, and Wikipedia is not a resource for research. You will be expected to find scholarly resources on your topic. If you use the same types of resources that you did in high school, or if you use resources intended for middle and high school levels, your professor will be angry, and you could easily end up with an “F.”
The Fix: Once you have your topic, perform a simple “Google” search. For example, use “college level resources for eugenics movements in the United States.” You will get a long list, including one or two clearing houses of resource lists. Choose your resources from among these lists and be grateful you are not in college 4 decades ago when searches had to be conducted in the library, using the card catalogue! And if you do go to the campus library, you can search by topic and be comfortable knowing that resources housed there are at an appropriate level of sophistication. One note, however: Wikipedia does have its place, particularly as you are attempting to refine a topic, because the entries are almost always divided into sub-topics.
Lack of a Thesis
You may have been able to get away with this in high school, but never when writing college papers. Choosing a topic is one thing. Coming up with a solid thesis is quite another. The thesis statement tells your reader why you have researched this topic or presents your viewpoint or opinion on the topic. Without a thesis, your paper has no scholarly merit and will certainly earn an “F.”
The Fix: Once you have a topic, ask yourself some questions about it. Is this something that most people don’t understand? Why is it important? What is your purpose in researching this – are you trying to enlighten, persuade, or analyze? When you answer one or more of these questions you will have your thesis statement. (And put it at the end of your introductory paragraph)
If you lack good writing skills – organization, coherence, paragraph development, sentence structure, transitions, mechanics, you will always receive lowered grades, no matter for what course you are writing an essay or paper.
The Fix: Unfortunately, correcting this issue is a process that takes times. You need to begin a self-taught program of grammar and composition, get a tutor, or spend a lot of time in the writing lab. Anyone can become a good academic writer, but it takes commitment and lots of practice. In the meantime, you may want to enlist the services of a reputable academic writing service that can provide you with original, custom writing while you develop your own skills.