They need to transition from seeing college writing assignments as different than high school homework.
“Why are you writing? Because I have a paper due tomorrow.” In college, students are expected to write because they have something to say on the topic, something worth communicating. First year students do not understand that most of the struggle and/or productive challenge of college-level writing is finding an approach/stance/position to the topic. We expect this level of engagement in college writing. In high school, students were either given topics or graded more on form and summary of content than on evidence and argument.
Authorship or “voice” becomes a problem. Unsuccessful college writers feel as if their writing has nothing to do with them; writing makes them feel depleted and exhausted. Because they often do not feel “expert” enough to write, they avoid the task altogether.
First-year students have little to no understanding of the time commitments necessary for various stages or parts of the writing process. In high school, they were used to teachers breaking writing projects down into discrete steps or tasks (e.g. outline, thesis statement, research evidence, rough draft, etc.) to be completed as homework and commented on usually at each step. In college, they need to learn to backwards plan from a paper due date and develop their own accountability for the developmental stages of a paper. In addition to this, they tend to vastly underestimate how long it will take to reread texts, organize notes or evidence, and rewrite sentences for clarity to meet all of the expectations at the co...
... middle of paper ...
...g a conversation with an invisible person. They disregard the need for internal structure—such as topic sentences, transitions, logical order of ideas, definitions attached to the words they are defining, etc. They just spill what they know, indenting where they might take a breath in a conversation. The reader is invisible to them and the belief that they are writing for a reader doesn’t make much sense. They are writing to show what they know; they are not writing a product to be read/interpreted. So most papers read like badly structured responses to blue book exam questions.
They apply the same simple writing process to all papers—whether it is a reaction/response paper or an analytic paper on a text. A first-year student’s view of a successful writing process:
Figure out what you want to say (with or without an outline)
Write the paper
Fix it up.
Turn it in.
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