We’re at the end of the term here at Metro Community College and heading into summer. Many new students will be planning to take their first-year writing classes in the fall. For students who may not love writing as much as we do here at the Writing Center, taking their first college writing class can be unnerving. However, taking a few simple steps over the summer to prepare yourself for college-level writing will put you one step ahead in the fall.
- Read. It’s that simple. Read as much as you can over the summer. It’s obvious to instructors the students who are readers and those who only read text messages. When you read, read like a writer. What does that mean? Reading like a writer means to read with a critical eye, analyzing the choices the writer has made. If you are reading literary fiction or nonfiction, study the language the writer uses. Read setting details with a critical eye, considering how the writer has avoided telling what something looks like and instead has shown through sensory specifics and literary devices, such as simile and metaphor.
- Fix your Problems. You know what I mean. Fix those problems you’ve had since 7th grade, when you learned – or didn’t learn – what a comma splice was. College instructors aren’t always going to teach you a lesson on how to fix your comma splices, or fragments, or run-on sentences; they will assume you have learned how to fix them yourself. If your high school essays were marked for the same punctuation error over and over, it’s time to learn how to fix it. Don’t carry the problem with you to college. I know some college professors who will hand a paper back ungraded with more than two punctuation errors on a page. There are hundreds of websites where you can brush up on punctuation and grammar, and many even have online quizzes. Two great ones are Purdue Owl and The Grammar Book.
- Break up with Semi-colons. For some unknown reason, beginning writers are in love with semi-colons. The problem is that most beginning writers misuse them. Semi-colons are used to separate two independent clauses, which are complete sentences (as well as items in a multi-word list). You create fragments, another punctuation error, by inserting semi-colons in the middle of sentences where there is only one independent clause. Most semi-colon errors in student papers are made when the writer tries to separate an independent clause from a dependent clause. If you just read this explanation and have no idea what all these terms mean, that means you should use periods. Period.
- Brush up on Research Skills. If you didn’t have access to library databases in high school, such as EBCSO or Lexis Nexis, or have a chance to learn the ins and outs of academic research, spend some time over the summer to familiarize yourself with your college’s database resources. Having even a slight familiarity with how to use these resources for your inevitable research paper will save you an enormous amount of time and trouble. We see so many students who have never used databases or even know what they are, that it puts them way behind when it’s time to write their first research paper. Websites, blogs, YouTube, and yes, even Wikipedia, are not acceptable modes of research for college. Use your down time this summer to visit your college’s library or writing center and tool around their online databases. You might even have fun doing it.
- Keep your Voice. Many new college students have the opinion that the more “academic” their voice in their writing, the better. This is a mistake. If you are using a dictionary to find fancy words when writing a paper, it’s painfully obvious in the final product. Write within the limits of your vocabulary. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s being authentic. Your voice is the one thing that makes your writing unique. Don’t bury it under academic jargon. Just today when I was reading a student paper, I crossed out the word “hence” in the middle of a perfectly good sentence. So throw away the list of academic lingo you’ve been compiling, and go with what you know.
Have a great summer!
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