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College Writing Tips

You're likely already tired of hearing that college coursework differs from significantly from high school work. You have many fewer hours of class. Professors are much less involved. You are pretty much on your own. All the brochures are right: College is what you make of it.

The disparity between high school and college is experienced directly in your academic papers, as well. College professors expect a very different product from what you're likely used to in secondary school.

Here are 4 tips that should prove helpful in your college papers:

1. Argue, don't summarize. High schools are mainly concerned with turning students into life-long learners, or at least helping students develop good study habits. And that often translates into the completion of homework. In short, high school teachers are thrilled when students read. Accordingly, most high school papers are actually "book reports," summaries of plots and the talking points of others. In college you're expected to step your game up a bit. It's not enough to say that Martin Luther King had a dream. You have to lay out what you think about the dream.

2. Specificity will triumph over generalities. This will take two forms: both in what you're assigned, and in how you should write. First off, your days of getting assigned broad topics like "Write about the American Revolution" are over. Your professors are specialists and will accordingly ask you to write about very specific topics like "How did World War I inform the Dadaist movement between 1914-1917?" Additionally, if you were to receive a very general assignment you should still drill down in your language. Gone should be the days of writings phrases like "In this day and age" and "our society." Professors have very fined-tuned BS radars, and they'll be able to spot that you are talking out of your bum from miles away.

3. Learn how to cite sources. Professors are more savvy than high teachers when it comes to spotting plagiarism. They google sentences; some even have sophisticated software that uses pattern-recognition to pinpoint lifted phrases. The difference between using someone's ideas in a healthy way and "plagiarizing" is a subjective one, so it's best to open up a line of dialogue with your professor on this front so you can be clear about his/her expectations.

4. Strive to be unique. If you are lucky (crazy?) enough to continue as a scholar to the Ph.D. level you'll be judged in large part on your ability to find a unique slice of a given topic that has not been investigated before. For ex, The Inverted Subject and Tri-liminal Space in Borat. And while doctorates aren't for everyone, scholarship is still looking for fresh arguments, even at the undergraduate level. So go ahead and take some risks! Your professors are going to get tired reading the same papers all the time anyway. :)

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