Folks used to writing on their own, such as in blogs, newsletters or some other project, shouldn’t have a problem writing for their essays and assignments in the university, right? Well, for the most part. While they may have the “writing in ways that make sense” part down (if they’re any good, that is), they’ll still need to conform within what’s acceptable for material created within the confines of academe.
There’s a gulf of difference between writing for an online audience on your blog and constructing papers that will get you good grades in class. One is a medium where you can tell off anyone who doesn’t like your style and there’s no harm done; the other can greatly affect your grades. What kinds of things do you need to look out for?
1. Inappropriate tone.
As much as your Tumblr followers may love your disrespectful bitchy tone, chances are, your instructors in school will hate it. Same when you write in a manner that’s either sarcastic, preachy, pompous, too colloquial, or too personal. As a guide, try picking up one or two sample student papers from the library (many universities will archive them) to get a better idea of how your school papers should sound. If you don’t have the time (or can’t find them), just try to write in a serious and respectful tone — that almost always gets the job done.
2. No direction.
For every student paper you write, make sure your argument is laid out clearly. If a reader can’t make out the main argument you’re making, you’re doing it wrong. This is why you’re repeatedly told to state your main argument clearly from the start — it ensures you have a clear direction of where you’re going right from the start.
The lack of a thesis statement isn’t the only way to err on this side. It can also happen when you ramble on in tangents or don’t support your statements with strong evidence. Remember: all those words need to go towards doing something specific, so proofread your copy and ensure that they do.
3. Poor organization.
Your blog readers may forgive you for writing without a clear structure, simply throwing out ideas as you think about them, and have them put in the effort to put it all together. Professors checking your paper, however, won’t. In fact, they might even slap you a poor grade without checking the work in its entirety, so a lot of the trouble you went through gathering facts and finding relationships between them will go to waste.
4. Poor presentation.
Depending on the class and the type of paper you’re writing, you’ll have a certain type of presentation required. This includes titles, subtitles, footnotes, page numbering and similar elements. Always make sure you follow the presentation requirements. As much as teachers may appreciate students getting creative, you can only get away with so much before you irritate whoever’s grading your papers when you make it harder than usual to read through (because you don’t follow the prescribed format).
5. Incorrect style.
Some teachers (in some cases, entire departments) will require student papers to follow a specific style guide, whether APA, MLA or something else. Do note, many technical fields will have an industry-standard style guide (e.g. the Chemistry department may use a guide set by the national association of chemists for science papers), too, so this can apply even if you major in a science or engineering course. Needless to say, even when writing with the most wonderful melding of words will still net you a lower mark if you don’t follow the prescribed stylebook.
6. Offensive language.
We get it — you’re street. At least, that’s how you like to appear, dressing in urban fashion and talking with a swagger straight out of Youtube skate videos. That doesn’t mean you have to write like you’re writing for an audience of thugs, sneakerheads and whatever other kind of clique hangs around the streets where you’re from, though. Cuss words, while common in conversations, have no place in student writing. Unless you’re quoting for effect, it’s a good idea to banish them from your writing.
7. Too aggressive.
You’re expected to use confident language when writing your papers and making your arguments. Do note there’s a big difference between writing with a confident tone and being excessively aggressive in your language. Don’t attack other point of views; instead, use illustrations and evidence to point out their incorrectness and inadequacies. It’s the difference between telling a teenage son “You can’t go to the pool” and giving them five good reasons why going to the pool is a bad idea (e.g. “They’re training piranhas there tonight. No really”).
8. Too wishy-washy.
If you write while giving off a vibe of being unsure and uncertain about your arguments, whoever’s reading your paper will likely get bored. You’re expected to have researched and collected enough evidence to bolster your arguments, so there’s no point in being wishy-washy. State your points strongly and present your reasons for thinking that way.
9. Too robotic.
Know how when you’re rushing your paper and don’t really understand the subject, you just parrot whatever you can find in your notes and hope they make some sort of sense? Yep, writing that way tends to turn into a robotic-sounding mess, like an automated software was tasked to take passages from various sources then combine them into a rewritten series of paragraphs. We know you have to do what you need to get by sometimes, but don’t expect good results from this type of effort.
10. Too dense.
Sometimes, you researched your material too well, you find yourself unwilling to leave off any detail for your paper. This often results in writing that gets caught up in listing facts that the reader loses sight of the big picture argument. We know you worked hard on finding examples, evidence and statistics that back up your claim — that doesn’t mean you need to include every single thing to construct a convincing argument.