Writing FAQs

 

Freshman FAQs

As a freshman, your first academic writings can seem stressful. Do NOT worry. Here are some frequently asked questions in the Writing Center on how to tackle your first piece of “Academic” writing.


Freshman FAQ list

1. I’m stressing out over this first college writing assignment, is there any way you can help me calm down?

2. I just got my first “real life” college writing assignment. What is different about this essay than the papers I wrote for high school?

3. Being a freshman, I am still unfamiliar with writing college papers. Topics for papers which imply that I am supposed to give my own opinion still ask for a list of sources. What types of papers should include quotations and outside information?

4. While I know that college academic writing is different from the writing that I have previously done in high school, I am still adjusting to which rules I should follow. I realize the five-paragraph form is stringent and unnecessary. But in the course of a paper, should I use the personal pronoun “I?”

5. Some helpful hints/answers to your first academic writings…

6. Who can I turn to on campus to help me with my writing process?


1. I’m stressing out over this first college writing assignment, is there any way you can help me calm down?

  • Breathe.
  • Try breaking your assignments into segments. Whether it’s tackling the introduction first, jotting down your main points, brainstorming or having an outline.
  • Although your roommate might not want to hear about it, try talking about your assignment to them, or anyone who is willing to listen. Talking out your ideas can help you think about what you will be doing. Even if that person is not listening, or does not know anything about what you are writing on, you can listen to yourself talk out loud and sort out what ideas are good and which are not so good.
  • Find a place where you can focus. Trying to write a paper in a “cluttered” environment is not going to make your stress levels go down, so try to find your happy place to write.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time to go back and correct your errors. However, if you do not leave enough time, and if you're feeling overwhelmed, asking your professor (in a respectful and convincing manner) for an extension is another option.
  • If you schedule yourself enough time, you'll find it helpful to take breaks. Write for a bit, go back, reread your assignment, and make the changes you need to. Writing is a process. Taking a break prevents burnout. Sometimes all you need is some time away, whether it's leaving your dorm room, calling a friend, watching TV, or even a quick nap. A new idea can emerge while you are away from your assignment, and it also gives you a chance to re-see your project.
  • Lastly, this is your first writing assignment, not the last, and it's certainly not the end of the world. This one assignment will not make or break you. Although it will probably be a part of your final grade for the class, you will be able to improve your writing in future assignments, and show your professor that you are making strides in the class.

2. I just got my first “real life” college writing assignment. What is different about this essay than the papers I wrote for high school?

Your first writing assignment can range from a lab report for your biology class to an analysis of a major business corporation for business, or an annotated bibliography for “Growing Up in America.” An important thing to realize is that, surprisingly enough, each discipline has their own standards on how to cite and ways to show your understanding of the material (using criticisms, displaying facts, cause and effect, graphs, etc.). There isn’t one specific writing style for all the majors, so for my first college writing assignment I would meet with my Professor to understand what the style of writing for my major is. This may seem like a waste of time, or intimidating, but (1) you will get to make a good first impression on your Professor, showing them you are putting effort into your work (2) you will become acclimated with your discipline's standards and (3) your stress on figuring out how to set up your paper will ease as, most likely, while you are figuring out the standards for your field of writing, your professor will give you some sort of specific guidelines for this assignment.

Don’t worry about getting everything right the first time. Professors know that you are new to the writing process of your field… at the same time don’t slack off… get a good first start to academia.


3. Being a freshman, I am still unfamiliar with writing college papers. Topics for papers which imply that I am supposed to give my own opinion still ask for a list of sources. What types of papers should include quotations and outside information?

For most academic papers, showing that you have done outside research is always good. The most important thing to remember about college papers is that you need to seem credible. Using quotes and citing outside information can help give that sense of credibility to your argument. You can still include your opinion, but using sources to back up or support your opinion lends more credibility to your argument. A popular type of essay in the university system is the response paper. While it implies that one is responding to a particular reading or topic discussed in class, using information and evidence to support your points is still considered necessary. Just keep in mind that professors want to see how you are using information from class and from your sources to form an original argument.

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4. I know that college academic writing is different from the writing that I have previously done in high school, but I am still adjusting to which rules I should follow. I realize the five-paragraph form is stringent and unnecessary. But in the course of a paper, should I use the personal pronoun “I?”

Forbidding the personal pronoun "I" is yet another one of those "rules" from high school English class which can be adjusted in light of the academic writing we do in college. Some college students and professors believe that "I" is not appropriate for some academic writing. One can sound more objective by not using the personal pronoun "I."

Yet, the first person and personal experience can be used in different ways in one's writing. In fact,
in a proposal for a longer writing assignment, completely avoiding the use of the personal pronoun can result in awkward sentences. Using "I" can help you assert your position within an essay or within an ongoing argument.

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5. Some helpful hints/answers to your first academic writings…

  • Don’t Panic.
  • If you are having any trouble AT ALL understanding the assignment or your professor’s expectations, ASK your professor. Have them explain the assignment in a different way, and then repeat back to them how you have interpreted the assignment. If your professor has not helped you understand what you need to do, visiting the Writing Center is another option. We can help you talk about how to interpret the assignment, and how to go about tackling the assignment.
  • Asking current classmates, or anyone you know who has previously taken the class, can help you as well. Getting a feel for other students' opinions on how they are handling course work can ease your own anxieties.
  • Start as EARLY as you can. Time is one of the most important and influential factors when writing. Providing yourself with time to correct your mistakes, and to ask questions and seek help from your professor, a tutor or even a friend is one of the best ways to deal with writing your first academic piece.

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6. Who can I turn to on campus to help me with my writing process?

Your professors, Academic Services Center (where you can find out information about study skills and workshops relevant to majors and classes), other students, your suitemate who is an English major, and, of course, the Writing Center located in the Humanities Building, HU 140.

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