Writing In College

Welcome to the world of academia!

College will provide you with new friends, new routines, and new experiences. After all, the main purpose of coming to college is to learn, to broaden your horizons, to expand your education—in other words, to see the world in a new light. The most obvious way this will happen is to attend classes, read your textbooks, study your notes, and show your instructors that you are mastering the material. Tests, of course, are the most common method of showing what you know about a subject, but many instructors also require papers. The purpose of this booklet is to help you understand some of the various kinds of writing you will be asked to do in college.

Aren’t students required to take writing classes?

Yes, you are required to take writing courses in which you will learn in a much more in-depth way how to go about writing in college and beyond. However, many students do not, or cannot, take a college writing course in their first semester. Yet instructors in other fields still assign papers and expect students to write them. Those instructors should be the first resource to go to with questions about whatever they assign you, but when you need to know more about writing conventions, this guide is where you can turn for answers.

English Requirements
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College

Before you registered for classes, you took the Accuplacer test to determine whether or not your writing skills were at college level. If not, you were placed in English 0090, Refresher English, a pre-college course that focuses on sentence and paragraph writing as well as study of grammatical and punctuation rules. You need to take this course and pass it before you can register for College Writing I so that your writing can be brought up to college level.

These are the college-level English courses every student who is seeking a degree is required to take:

College Writing I (everyone must take this course)

  • Composition and Research (English 1001, 4 credits). It is highly recommended that you take this course in your first or second semester of college. It is a pre-requisite for the second course, for which you have four choices, depending on your intended major.

College Writing II (choose one)

  • Introduction to Literature (English 1010, 3 credits). This course focuses on the study of fiction, poetry, and drama as venues for discussion and writing.
  • Writing for Work (English 1020, 3 credits). The main thrust of this course is to learn and practice the various types of writing done in the work world. It is the required writing course for several of FDLTCC’s career programs.
  • Creative Writing (English 1030, 3 credits). This course is for those students who want to express themselves through their own stories, poems, and other expressive writing.
  • American Indian Literature (English 1040, 3 credits). This course focuses on fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written by American Indian authors. It is the second lower-division writing course required for the college’s elementary education program.

What do college instructors expect?

Your instructors expect you to write well enough so that you can show them in writing that you understand the subject matter being taught. Even if you know your psychology or biology well, if you cannot communicate that to your instructors, they won’t necessarily know that you know it.

In short, your instructors expect, at minimum, that you are able to do the following:

  1. Write in complete sentences.
  2. Organize your sentences into paragraphs when appropriate.
  3. Follow written and oral directions carefully.
  4. Write legibly when completing in-class writing.
  5. Word-process papers and written projects done outside of class (and use a spell-checker).

In addition, some college instructors expect that students do research outside of class to supplement the learning done in class. Teachers expect students to adhere to a prescribed format and compile a bibliography when presenting research, whether for a sociology paper or for a written outline for a public speaking class.

Types of Papers You May be Asked to Write

Essay Tests

The key to writing a good essay test, besides studying for it, is to read the questions carefully so that you actually answer the questions asked. Look for some of the following words in the questions that can guide your answer: analyze, argue, clarify, compare/contrast, define, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain, identify, interpret, relate, summarize. (See the glossary at the end of this booklet for definitions of these terms.)

Remember also to write your answers in complete sentences. An effective way to start off your answer is to turn the question into a statement, therefore assuring your answer will be a complete sentence. For example, say the question on the test asks, “Where in the body are the Islands of Langerhans located, and what is their main function?” You could start off your answer in this way: “The Islands of Langerhans are located in the pancreas and their main function in the body is to. . .”

You can usually gauge how much to write by the number of points assigned to the question in relation to the total number of points on the test. A question that asks for a “short answer” generally is expecting an answer of one to five sentences. An essay question may run from one to several paragraphs, depending on the complexity of its content.

Since essay tests are usually meant to be completed during class time, students should scan the whole test first to see which questions might require more time to answer. Crossing out mistakes (using a minimum of arrows) is more practical than copying your paper over. Better yet, using a dark pencil with an eraser or an erasable pen will make the test easier for the instructor to read.

Reaction/Response Papers

As you can guess by its name, a reaction/response paper records a response the writer experiences to a particular reading, video, presentation, or event. The instructor is looking for an honest gut response here, not what the student thinks the instructor wants to hear. Nevertheless, a reaction or response paper still needs to be written carefully.

A reaction/response paper needs to include not only a student’s immediate reaction to the reading, video, presentation, or event, but also a brief explanation of reasons for that reaction.

Often a paper of this type is written at the beginning of a unit of study and then discussed. Later on, a writer’s understanding of the subject at hand may change—after more reading and discussion has taken place. Thus, it is a valuable learning tool.

Tips on how to write one:
Be sure to include in your first sentence or two the statement, reading, presentation, etc., to which you are reacting. Secondly, describe your reaction. Thirdly, list some possible reasons for that particular reaction. Finally, conclude with a sentence summarizing the main point of your reaction. Of course, if the instructor has listed points that you need to include in your answer, do so.

What was your reaction to reading Emily Dickinson’s poem “A Route of Evanescence” for the first time? Here is the poem:

A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel—
A resonance of Emerald—
A Rush of Cochineal—
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts its tumbled head—
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride—

Answer: My first reaction to reading Dickinson’s poem “A Route of Evanescence” was one of confusion. I wasn’t sure of the meaning of the word cochineal. However, I did notice the word emerald in the preceding line, so I concluded cochineal must be the name of a color, maybe red. Knowing that the thing being described was red and green didn’t help me understand what the poem was describing, though.

There were a couple of elements in the poem that I liked. I did notice that the speaker used several words beginning with the letter r: route, revolving, resonance, and rush, which gave the poem a certain sound quality. I also liked the line “and every Blossom on the Bush/Adjusts its tumbled Head.”

I assumed that there were flowers in the poem from the above mentioned phrase. Still, I was confused by the name of the city or country of Tunis. I couldn’t understand what the poem was about, considering it had elements of color, flowers, and travel in it.

Position Papers

A position paper is one in which you take a stand (position) on an issue and defend that position. It is meant to persuade the reader to consider your point of view, much like a persuasive speech is meant to persuade a listener to consider a particular point of view.

A position paper needs to contain a clear thesis or theme statement. Here are some examples:

  • It is not supply and demand that determines the price of oil, but politics. The writer would need to defend that position with facts and expert opinion.
  • The languages of America’s indigenous peoples need to be preserved. The writer would first have to determine that these languages are in danger of dying out, and then give good reasons why they need to be saved.
  • Rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities should be re-instituted. The writer would have to give a bit of background on the history of rail service between the Twin Cities and Duluth and then present sound reasons why rail service would be a good thing now.

Tips on how to write a position paper:

Begin with an introductory paragraph whose first few general sentences lead the reader to the main point, the thesis—the position you are taking on the issue.

Then, in the body of the paper, give your reasons—one per paragraph. Develop each paragraph by stating the reason first; then give evidence in the form of facts, your own experience, and expert opinion. If you cite information that you have found in books, articles, or other sources, be sure to include the names of the sources in your paper by writing something like “According to Dan Jones, Anishinaabe language instructor at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College . . .” Be logical in the ordering of your points so that the impact of your position is strong. Anticipate questions and /or objections the reader may have about your position.

Conclude in a separate paragraph by summarizing your main points or leaving the reader with a thoughtful statement or question.


A report is not a research paper although it does involve research. A report is a chronological, factual account of something that generally answers the questions who, what, when, where, how, and why. In academia there are several types of reports, including lab reports, book reports, incident reports, trip reports, field reports, etc. These reports are generally based on observation and/or experience, and they are objective.

The main focus of a report is to convey factual information. Opinion is not included, unless it is an evaluative report (one in which you make a judgment). Report writing is a very important part of the physical and social sciences, as well as law enforcement and business.

In college, you may be asked to write a report about an internship or service learning project so that your instructor knows whether you have fulfilled the requirements asked of you. In that report, you would need to tell what the internship was, when it took place (specific dates and times), whom you saw and/or talked to, where it took place, why you did it, and what skills you learned from the experience. As well as conveyor of facts, the report is a record—something that can be kept on file for future reference.


A bibliography is an organized list of sources of information used in a written document. Bibliographies are always part of a research paper or a researched oral presentation. Bibliographies help readers and listeners know several things:

  • That you actually did find information on your topic
  • That you have given credit where credit is due and thus avoided plagiarizing
  • That the readers can refer to the sources to find additional information on their own

Sometimes college instructors will ask you to compile annotated bibliographies as projects. An annotated bibliography not only lists sources you have found and skimmed, but also comments on the sources, usually in the form of a brief descriptive (objective) or evaluative (subjective, citing its usefulness or quality) summary.

There are several bibliographic styles to choose from. Your instructor may dictate that you use a particular one, or may give you the choice. Whichever style you use, however, you must be consistent. A few of the most use styles are listed below:

MLA (Modern Language Association)
The MLA style is used in the humanities (English, literature, art,
history, philosophy, to name a few). This style emphasizes the author’s name and the page number on which his/her ideas appear in a work. The title of the bibliography page for sources used and cited in the paper is Works Cited. The title Works Consulted is used in a preliminary bibliography, a list of sources that one peruses before actually summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting material from them. For more detailed information, go to http://www.mla.org

Sample MLA style bibliography page:

Works Cited

Brown, Dan. The DaVinci Code. New York: Doubleday, 2003. [book with one author]

Cahill, Susan, Ed. Desiring Italy: Women Writers Celebrate the Passions
of a Country and Culture. New York: Fawcet, 1997. [
edited book]

Caplin, Joan. “Confessions of a Compulsive Shopper.” Money Aug.
2005: 105-108.
[popular monthly magazine]

“Cranes Won’t Need Ultralight Guide.” Duluth News Tribune 25 July 2005:
2B. [
newspaper article without a byline]

Kerasote, Ted. “The Big Flap.” Audubon 107.3(May/June 2005): 44-50. [journal article]

Leu, A. I. “Organic Agriculture Can Save the World.” Well Being Journal
13.2 (Mar/Apr 2004). 25 July 2005. [
date article retrieved]
http://www.wellbeingjournal.com/OrganizationAgriculture.htm. [online journal article]

APA (American Psychological Association)
This style is used most frequently in the social sciences of psychology, sociology, human services, education, etc.) The APA style emphasizes the author’s name and the year in which his/her material was published. The title of the bibliography page for this style is References. For more detailed information on this style go to http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_apa.html


Brown, D.(2003). The daVinci code. New York: Doubleday.
Cahill, S. (Ed.). (1997) Desiring Italy: Women writers celebrate the
passions of a country and culture. New York: Fawcet.
Caplin, J. (Aug. 2005). Confessions of a compulsive shopper. Money:
Cranes won’t need ultralight guide. (25 July 2005). Duluth news tribune:
Kerasote, T. (May/June 2005). The big flap. Audubon: 44-50.
Leu, A. I. (Mar/Apr. 2003). Organic agriculture can save the world.” Well
Being Journal 13.2. Retrieved July 25, 2005, from

CMS (Chicago Manual of Style)
The Chicago style is used by many in the humanities and social sciences, as well as the natural sciences. It documents information either by the author-date method like that of the APA or by the footnote/endnote method. To find more detailed information, go to http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/DocChicago.html


Brown, Dan. The DaVinci Code. New York: Doubleday and Sons, 2003.
Cahill, Susan, ed. Desiring Italy: Women Writers Celebrate the Passions
of a Country and Culture. New York: Fawcet Columbine, 1997.
Caplin, Joan. “Confessions of a Compulsive Shopper.” Money Aug.
2005, 105-108.
“Cranes Won’t Need Ultralight Guide.” Duluth News Tribune July 25,
2005, 2B.
Kerasote, Ted. “The Big Flap.” Audubon 107.3(May/June 2005): 44-50.
Leu, A. I. “Organic Agriculture Can Save the World.” Well Being Journal
13.2 (Mar/Apr 2004).
http://www.wellbeingjournal.com/OrganizationAgriculture.htm (accessed July 25, 2005).

These are the three most used styles for undergraduates in academia. However, know that there are several other style manuals that are very specific to certain disciplines.

Research Papers

Why do instructors assign research papers?

College instructors assign research papers so that students have the opportunity to independently learn information not necessarily presented in lectures or textbooks. In addition, students gain practice in the process of researching so that they will know how to find and present information long after the class is over.

How do I choose a topic?

Sometimes you will be assigned a particular topic to research, and other times you will be given a choice. In either case, the best way to begin is to make the topic your own by focusing on an aspect of it that interests you. In general, the narrower your topic, the easier it will be to know what to include and exclude. However, you do need to check on the availability of source material to make sure you actually have access to information on your topic.

For example, you will probably begin with a wide subject area such as health and then narrow it down to a topic such as diabetes. Then you might ask yourself this question: What do I want to learn about diabetes? You might have heard that many children are now being diagnosed as diabetics. Phrase it into a question: Why are so many children being diagnosed as diabetics? This becomes your research question, and if you already have some idea of its cause, your hypothesis, or educated guess, might look something like this:

Poor diets and lack of exercise have contributed to the increase in juvenile diabetes in American children.

Where do I look for information?

The focus of your research, then, will be to look in reputable publications for credible sources that help to support your hypothesis. The place to start is at the college library. Use the online catalog to find out what sources are available, and when you do, to find out where those sources are located. The librarian can direct you to other sources of information as well. People are an invaluable resource, so don’t hesitate to ask experts in the field, whether on campus or in the community. In addition, the Internet can connect you with web sites related to your topic. If at all possible, do not rely entirely on the web for your sources. Some web sites are not reliable, and the information you get from them may not be based on reputable research.

How do I take notes?

Once you gather together your sources, the first thing you should do is to list the publication information of each source on a note card, a sheet of paper, or in a computer file. You will need this information when you compile your bibliography and when you cite your sources within the paper.

  1. For books, write down the complete title, the author’s name, the edition (if listed), the city of publication, the publisher, and the date of publication.
  2. For articles found in journals, magazines, or newspapers, write down the title of the publication, its volume number (if a journal), its date, the title of the article, the author (if given), and the page numbers on which the article appears.
  3. For internet sources, the publication information varies, depending on whether it is an article found in an online journal or information posted on a web site. To be safe, copy down as much publication information as is given—and print out the material you think you will be using. You will need the title of the article, the name of the web site, the author (if given), the publication date (if given), the date you accessed the material, and the URL.
  4. For interviews, write down the names of your interviewees, making sure to spell correctly, and the date on which you interviewed them.
  5. Other types of sources should also be documented; more specific instructions can be found in your textbooks or in the various style manual web sites.

The next step is to read your source material carefully, making sure that you understand the meaning and its context. On separate cards, sheets, or computer files, jot down information that you think will be useful for your paper. It is better to take more notes than you think you will use than too few.

When taking notes, it is very important to copy quotations exactly as they appear in print and to put quotation marks around the words so that you know they are quotes. Write the name of the author (or title of article, if author not given) and the page number on which it appears (or the publication date, depending on style manual) above the quote on your card or note. When you do not wish to quote directly, make sure that you write your “take” or “translation” of the original material in your own words and include the author’s name and page number or date. Even when you put someone else’s ideas into your own words—paraphrase--you must acknowledge the source of those ideas. To omit this step is to commit plagiarism. If you want to add your own commentary to your notes, you might want to enclose your ideas in brackets so that you won’t be confused about whose ideas belong to whom when you begin drafting your paper.

This process may take a few days or a few weeks, so you need to plan a way to organize your notes. Some students use color-coding (colored note cards or colored markers) and some students use numbering systems to keep track of notes. Grouping your notes according to ideas is helpful. For example, using the children and diabetes topic previously mentioned, you might organize your notes according to possible causes. Once you organize your notes, you can more easily create an outline from which you can draft your paper.

Outlining and drafting

Once you find support for your hypothesis, it becomes your thesis, or central idea. Then you can outline your material to show how it supports your thesis. Each main reason or cause, in the case of the diabetes thesis, can become one or several support paragraphs. Depending on what you want to emphasize in your paper, you can order your support paragraphs in the most logical way: order of importance, chronological order, spatial order, etc. The outline can be formal or informal, depending on your preference or the preference of your instructors, who sometimes require that you turn in a formal outline with your paper.

As you can probably guess, you will spend the bulk of your time researching, reading, note-taking, and organizing. Once you have invested time and energy into those steps, drafting becomes relatively easy. Begin with the body of the paper and write your rough draft straight through if possible, including quotes and paraphrases with respective documentation. Documentation includes author’s last name and page number or publication year, depending on style manual, and it must be cited either in the sentence itself or in parentheses. Note the differences in citations between MLA and APA styles:

According to Robin McKenzie, author of Treat Your Own Neck, “The design of transportation, commercial and domestic seating only encourages our poor postural habits” (24). [MLA]

According to Robin McKenzie (1983), author of Treat Your Own Neck, “The design of transportation, commercial and domestic seating only encourages our poor postural habits.” [APA]

Here are paraphrased versions of the above documented quote:

Robin McKenzie, author of Treat Your Own Neck, notes that the engineering of public seating contributes to our posture problems (240).

Robin McKenzie (1983), author of Treat Your Own Neck, notes that the engineering of public seating contributes to our posture problems.


Save the introduction and conclusion paragraphs for last. The introduction can be anywhere from one to three or more paragraphs long, depending on the length of the whole paper. Its purpose is to grab the reader’s attention and to introduce the paper’s thesis. For a relatively short paper (3 to 10 pages), the introduction usually starts out with an attention-getter, some general statements concerning the subject of the paper, and then ends with a statement of the thesis. The transition from the attention getter to the thesis should be smooth and logical.


A research paper’s conclusion consists of one or more paragraphs and brings closure to the paper. You can reiterate the main points of the paper, restate your thesis, point out implications of your findings, or somehow tie the ending with the statements made in the introduction, thereby creating unity.


Set aside the rough draft for a day or so and then begin revising. Revising a rough draft means adding and/or deleting material, moving sentences and paragraphs around, as well as making sure your thesis and your attitude towards it control the paper. That means you do not just string together quotes and paraphrases throughout the whole paper; rather, you write your ideas and use the source material to help support them. You may need to revise several drafts before you are satisfied with the paper’s content.


At the editing stage, you can add transitions and fine-tune the language so that it flows easily. Be sure to check spelling and punctuation. It might be helpful to have someone with a critical eye read it over to catch grammatical and typographical errors. Follow the conventions of your style manual for formatting your paper, including the bibliography page, which is always last.


To critically examine an idea or act by taking it apart and explaining those parts in detail in order to understand the whole.

To take a position on an issue and defend it, using reason and logic.

To simplify or to make a vague idea clearer, perhaps by using examples.

To show the similarities of two or more ideas, issues, or things that may not seem alike.

To show the differences of two or more ideas, issues, or things that might, on the surface, seem alike.

To explain what a term or idea means.

To show what something looks, sounds, tastes, or feels like or to objectively detail a process or event.

To show what you know about an issue or concept by relating it to other ideas, perhaps those learned in class discussion or reading, using detail and examples.

The part of the writing process that follows prewriting (note-taking and outlining). It involves actually writing down ideas in sentence and paragraph form. A first draft is meant to be revised, perhaps many times.

The last part of the writing process, the part that looks at surface changes such as spelling, punctuation, mechanics, and formatting. It is not the same as revising.

To judge the merit of an idea, event, or thing (ranging from an invention to a piece of literature), using stated or implied criteria by which to judge.

To explain, in your way of thinking, what something means.

Using another’s words or ideas into your own writing. Paraphrasing is often less awkward in research writing than quoting directly.

Using another’s words or ideas in a work of your own and not acknowledging them properly. If you use other people’s ideas or words in your writing and do not give them credit (by citing name or work), you are guilty of plagiarism, whether your “stealing” is intended or not. It is considered unethical to plagiarize.

A term used to include those activities that precede actual drafting of a paper or other writing. Prewriting includes such activities as brainstorming, freewriting, outlining, interviewing, researching, etc.

To show how an idea or process is connected to another.

A part of the writing process that ‘re-sees” what has been written. Often, major changes are made in content at this stage—either adding, deleting, or moving parts that have been written.

To note only the key points of a larger work, keeping its meaning intact.