The Writing Center

Your Role in Academic Writing

The ways you look at yourself and your writing assignment can very much influence the stylistic and other writing choices you make, which can influence your grade.  Here are some ideas about making good choices.

Let Go of the Student Role

If you take the role of student when you are in an advanced course in your major, you will choose to report information or you will stitch your paper together referring to others’ work.  When you do that, the professor thinks you do not have a focus or thesis.  When you do not have a thesis, you lose an entire grade.  The role of student is for first-year students and sophomores, not for advanced students.  You must see yourself discussing ideas with someone who is an expert.  That expert wishes to see you think through ideas, and he or she is willing to challenge you when you are off.  Expect to be challenged and write accordingly. 

Know Your Reader’s Values

You are writing to a professor; in short, most professors value learning.  If, therefore, you show disrespect to that value of learning, you drop a letter grade.  You can show disrespect the following ways:

  • Repeating information (makes it look like padding)
  • Not citing appropriately
  • Writing about things the professor knows about already
  • Not caring for small things in research writing (e.g. the use of brackets, ellipses, block quoting, correct citation)
  • Not treating knowledge with respect.

Understand Your Own Attitudes about Writing

Sometimes students write poorly because of bad experiences with prior teachers.  If that sounds like you, you need to seriously take time to imagine your reader as a friendly, interested reader—most college professors are.  Another attitude problem occurs when students are afraid.   Students can hide behind sources and stitch together a quilt of quotes for a paper.  Another attitude problem occurs when students think their writing should sound stilted; professors want real writing and thinking, not inflated and hard-to-read prose.  Finally, when students just dislike writing for how much time it takes, that attitude shows in prose that has no respect for the fine points of writing and diction.

Craft the Right Introduction

When thinking about your introduction, consider the following and jot down ideas as they come to you:

  • What is the most interesting aspect of your subject from an academic point of view?
  • What is the most interesting aspect of your subject from a social (community) point of view?
  • How can you put those into the introduction?

These three considerations show you respect both the instructor and the material.

A Focus-Driven Paper

How can you let your focus drive the paper?  Jot down some ideas.  Let your focus, not the sources, drive the paper.  If you anticipate that your reader will argue with you, jot down some notes about how you will respond to those comments in the paper.

Improving Your Writing

If you are thinking that you do have the right role and that you do have the right attitude, but you are lacking in writing skills, then it is time to begin reading very serious books in your area and taking tutorials in the Writing Center.  Having an excellent command of written English comes from reading and from writing.  Study how good writers in your field create introductions.  Look at their sentence structure and ask yourself whether you write sentences the same way.  Ask yourself whether your diction compares with theirs.  You can make the changes needed if you analyze successful writers and adjust accordingly.  Tutorials can make this process go much faster.

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