College Writing 101

Here is some advice on writing from a teacher and student of the craft.

by Trent M. Kays

The new semester has begun, and youâÄôve made it through the first week âÄî congratulations. The first week has always been the toughest and easiest for me because I find it tough to interact with new people but easy to prepare for classes. As someone pursuing a Ph.D., I am both a student and a teacher. It can be an odd juxtaposition at times because in one week I may go from discussing theoretical writing concepts to teaching the basics of comma usage.

As both a student and teacher of writing, I have some insights, which might help you as your semester progresses. Hopefully you are still at a point where you are not behind on work, so I think the following advice will be most beneficial now. IâÄôll offer you my thoughts from two perspectives: a studentâÄôs and a teacherâÄôs.

As a student, IâÄôve always enjoyed writing. I enjoyed writing before I entered college, but I also know that some of my fellow students do not enjoy writing and struggle with it. As a student, here are the strategies I use to encourage myself to write every day and work toward a set goal, like an essay or research paper:

1. DonâÄôt expect too much from yourself. You should write as much as you can until you canâÄôt write anymore. ItâÄôs okay to fall short during a writing session, and itâÄôs okay to take a break. I usually write for 20-minute stints and then take a 10-minute break. I eat some cookies, drink a soda, play with my kitty and relax.

2. DonâÄôt worry about grammatical stuff when you write; it will only slow you down. The purpose of a writing session is to write and not revise. Revision comes later after youâÄôve written a first draft. After your first draft is completed, you should go back through and revise for content and grammar issues.

3. DonâÄôt turn in your first draft. This might seem like a silly one, but I know some friends who will turn in the first and only draft of their work. A majority of the time, the first draft of any writing is bad. Never fall in love with your first draft. Revise your writing before you turn it in.

4. DonâÄôt forget to write. You should schedule a time of the day when youâÄôll write and follow that schedule every day. ItâÄôs important to get into a routine of writing every day. The more you write, the easier it will become. I struggled to write every day when I was younger, but once I started a daily writing schedule, I wrote more than I ever thought I could.

5. DonâÄôt quit. You will get frustrated, and thatâÄôs okay. If you get frustrated, then you should take a break. You will not be able to write as well or successfully if youâÄôre frustrated and need to force every single word onto the page, but you should never quit.

These are the five main strategies I use to push through both easy and tough writing assignments. The key to any writing process is consistency. You need to be consistent and dedicated, and the writing will flow from you.

As a writing teacher, many of the same strategies I mentioned above, which I use, I also highlight for my students. Many students seem to believe that writing instructors do not suffer from the same issues as they do. This couldnâÄôt be farther from the truth. Writing instructors, like students, have to proofread, copyedit and revise too. All teachers suffer from writerâÄôs block and get frustrated when parts of their writing donâÄôt fit together. As a writing teacher, here are some of the issues I watch for in my studentsâÄô writing:

1. You should know what youâÄôre talking about. I get papers every semester where my students try to show that they have the authority to write about their topic but fail to do so. When you write a paper, you need to write about a topic on which you are knowledgeable. I want to see my students write on a topic with authority. Find a topic youâÄôre interested in or passionate about and write on it; this will give you authority.

2. You should do your best to be coherent. Everyone has a different writing process, but writing generally flows in a logical manner. One thought should lead to the next thought and so on. You need to be going somewhere in your writing, and you need to have a point. I do my best to help students write coherently, and much of the incoherent writing I get could have been clarified with a session of proofreading.

3. You should use language appropriate to your level of writing. Writers come from all different backgrounds, so I donâÄôt expect my students to immediately use the same language I use when I write. ItâÄôs okay to not use big words in every sentence. If you know the word, then use it. If youâÄôve never seen it before, you should become familiar with how it is normally used in sentences before using it in your own writing.

4. You should know something, even if itâÄôs only a little, about grammar. IâÄôve never considered grammar the most important aspect of writing, but you should know some of the basics: for example, how to properly use a comma, semicolon or colon. If you have trouble with semicolons, then you should practice using them. You could also mark semicolons in your own writing and ask your teacher whether you used them correctly or not. There are plenty of online resources to help you with grammar issues.

All the above issues I look for in my studentsâÄô writing, and I assure you other instructors will look for these as well. Every writer can enact and conquer these basic strategies and issues. You can do it, and your writing instructor is your best ally. They are your greatest resource âÄî ask for help and ask questions, and youâÄôll do fine.


Trent Kays welcomes comments at [email protected]