Editorial: Writing in College


Contributing Writer

In high school, I thought I was a pretty decent writer. I got good grades on my papers, I knew how to use meaningful quotes and I had an abiding love for the Oxford Comma.  

So, when I began my freshman year, I walked confidently into my English 1101 class.  

I sat down with my notebook (from the college bookstore) and 14 extra pens (because I still went school shopping my freshman year). I was excited about my first essay.  

Would I have to write about a novel?  Would I have to write an article?  

All of my assumptions were wrong. Instead, the assignment was to write about anything, and it was due in three weeks time. 

I had no idea what I would write my paper on. As a result, my confidence in my writing skills – rooted in A’s scored on high-school writing prompts – was shattered. 

When given a topic by an instructor, I could write a paper easily, but, without one, I had no idea where to begin.  The causes of the Civil War?  The rise of the Mongol Empire?  The motifs in How to Kill a Mockingbird?  No problem.

 But writing about anything that interested or inspired me was a challenge like no other because, as it turned out, I’d never been given the opportunity to write about anything that I wanted without limitation.

When the professor just instructed me to “write an essay,” many questions ran through my mind. 

How was I supposed to determine the variables?  Working through this challenge helped me realize the difference between writing in high school and writing in college.

 In high school, they provide you with the ideas and teach you how to format an essay.  

In college, however, they teach you how to form ideas worthy of being written about.  

If you’re wondering, like I was, what your topic should be for such a broad assignment, think about what you love to talk about. 

If the paper is based on literature, establish parts of the literature that sparked your interest. If you find an excerpt from a novel or short story and are unsure about what the author meant, write about it.  If you want to know why the author chose to use a specific metaphor, write about that. 

If the professor tells you to write about anything, that’s what he or she means, so don’t spend too much time worrying about whether the topic will be incorrect. 

What makes a piece of writing great isn’t comma placement, paragraph formation or integrating at least three quotes.  

Great writing comes from an author who cares about his or her topic and puts creativity and thought into the work.

 If you absolutely love a particular piece of furniture or are really passionate about honeybees, then you should write about it. It can still be a great and well-written paper as long as you put originality and passion into your work.