In recent years, the concept of college readiness—or how prepared a student is for college-level work—has received considerable attention, as many freshmen are struggling with the expectations of a university education.
There are several factors that contribute to a person’s college readiness. They include understanding and synthesizing the fundamental concepts of subjects like math and science, as well as the ability to write at a college level. The expectations for college writing are often more rigorous, and for international students, this can be further complicated by language barriers.
If you are going to be studying in the U.S., or are considering doing so, the following is intended to help you navigate the college writing world:
1. Source citation
One of the largest differences between high school and college writing assignments is your instructors’ expectations about source citations. Source citation is the process by which you indicate where you found information that you have used to support your argument. For instance, if you were writing about employment in the United States, you might cite a statistic about how many people are currently employed. Because you found this information somewhere else (rather than creating it yourself), you must indicate this fact. It is important to note that you do not need to cite content that is general knowledge—just specific data or ideas that are not your own.
In college writing, how you cite a piece of information is important. Nearly every field of study has its own citation style. These styles include the American Psychological Association (or APA), the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Modern Language Association (MLA). Each style has particular citation requirements, as well as a specific format for how you list resources and format your paper.
2. Footnotes and endnotes
If you have ever read a book or a journal, only to wonder why there are numbers and small blocks of text in the bottom margin of the page, you have encountered footnotes. In some cases, these will be included at the end of the work. (In this case, they are referred to as endnotes.) In general, notes are used to share information that the author thought was important, but not necessarily central to the primary text. This includes explanations of concepts or terms, additional facts that are not directly relevant, or anything else that will enhance the reader’s experience.
Using notes is a great way to include important information without over-complicating your argument. If you are not sure when to use footnotes or endnotes, read the sentence or paragraph in question. Then, ask yourself what, if anything, could be taken out without sacrificing the intent.
3. Comparative reading and critical thinking
Perhaps the papers you wrote in high school were more like reports than critical essays. (In other words, you synthesized a great deal of information, but did not critically analyze the material.) When you write a college paper, you will be expected to include information from multiple sources and to demonstrate your ability to reflect critically on what you have read.
Comparative reading simply means that you have consulted multiple sources on a subject, and have considered each in the context of the others. For example, if you were going to write a paper about the Vietnam War, you could read books written by an American soldier and a Vietnamese civilian. Although these two individuals are writing about the same subject, they are likely to have very different perspectives. Using your critical thinking skills, it is your job to give equal consideration to both texts.
When writing an assignment for a college class, the most important item to focus on is the content. Having said that, it is also very important to give your work a final review before you submit it. You will want to focus on aspects like spelling, grammar, and overall use of English (all of which affect how your reader interprets your ideas). Equally important, however, is to ensure that you have followed the style guide set out by your instructor. This includes the format of your citations, bibliography or works cited, and so on.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.