Posted in Curriculum, High School

Getting Ready to Write in College

Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and DesignersLet’s talk about writing in college – not “I want to be a writer” writing, but the kind of writing everyone has to do to get through their degree.  I think it’s pretty common to spend a lot of time in our homeschools emphasizing creative writing, when in fact, only some of our teens will ever have to do creative writing in college.  What skills does the college expect your teen to have, and what will they learn while in class? In this post, we’ll look at the expectations of non-writing college majors and how you can prepare your high school student.


So, what pre-writing skills does your teen need before college?

Typing

I remember taking a typing class in 9th grade, but I haven’t seen “typing” class on a high school transcript since then. Perhaps typing is considered intuitive for our teens? Still, if your teen hasn’t developed the ability to type relatively well by now, it’s time to develop this skill.  Cathy Duffy has a handful of keyboarding and typing curriculum suggestions on her site, but I like the free online game called  Typing Club that is a super-organized curriculum open to anyone.

Word Processing 

Computer based typing using word processing software like Microsoft Word will be required almost 100% of the time. Writing in college is almost always done electronically because colleges use plagiarism software to scan the entire internet-universe for violations.   If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you may want to download a similar (free) product called Apache Open Office.  Once your teen is enrolled at the college, they may be eligible to purchase Microsoft Word (and the entire suite of products) at a significant student discount.  I used Apache Open Office for years, it is nearly identical to Word.

Basic computer functions your teen needs to know asap:  open a file, save a file, change a docx to a pdf, attach a file to an email, transfer a file to a zip/thumb drive.

Basic Word functions your teen needs to know asap:  modify margins, use italics/bold/underline, indent, change single/double spacing, insert citations, create headers and footers, run spell check, and create a bibliography page.

If there are gaps in your teen’s understanding in any of the above, there is a free computer class that a lot of the members here (adults and teens) have used with great success called Jan’s Illustrated Computer Literacy.  It’s a perfect 1-semester curriculum and covers all of the essentials they need.

Rewording without Plagiarizing

You can bet that your teen’s assignments will be run through plagiarism software.  It’s the norm today, and the software will calculate a “similarity percentage.” Teachers and professors look at the similarity percentages, and you can expect consequences when plagiarism matches at 20% or better.  This isn’t to scare parents but be aware that plagiarizing can be a serious offense, even when it’s on accident.  At the very least a student may receive a zero on an assignment, but significant infractions can result in expulsion.   The most common software teachers use is called Turnitin.  If you’d like to see examples of what would cause a flag, Turnitin has a nice infographic on their website.

Your teen will receive thorough instruction about what constitutes plagiarism in their English 101 class, but the sooner they start to understand plagiarism, the easier it will be for them to comply with the guidelines.  Turnitin has a nice tutorial to help you understand plagiarism in depth.

Basic Grammar

There won’t be time to learn basic grammar in college, the professors will assume your teen can compose a clear sentence from the start.  While you may be surprised that most of what you learned through 8th grade will be sufficient, that doesn’t make it less important.  Developing good habits, like using spell check every time, will help with this.

There is a new app on the market called Grammarly.  You can download it for your PC or phone and it runs a grammar checker at all times in the background of every program you’re in.  The free version will catch spelling and word choice errors, there is a premium “pay” version that helps you improve your writing.  Grammarly also sends you a weekly report with your top errors too.  It’s by far my favorite app of 2017, and I’ve got it on all my kid’s computers.  teen-2


What will the college teach my teen?

In all 50 states, your teen will take at least one English Composition course (assuming their college is accredited) and the majority will take two.  English Composition is commonly called English 101 and is taught as the first course (assuming no developmental courses are needed).  The second course in the series, where required, will vary by college.  The second English course is usually a research course, technical writing course, or business writing course and may be called English 102 or similar.

For your information, I’m including links to a few actual college websites for English Composition.  The more of these you visit, the more you’ll find that they all teach roughly the same thing.

Boise State University English 101

University of South Carolina English 101

Harvard University English 101

Liberty University English 101

Heartland Community College English 101

In general, the goal of English 101 is to teach the student the 4 common writing styles, and how to craft a 5-paragraph essay.  Expect the English course to contain significant amounts of short to medium length written assignments (under 750 words) using a variety of styles.

  • Expository – Writing in which author’s purpose is to inform or explain the subject to the reader.  When your student learns academic-style report writing, it will be this type.  Expository writing also carries over into business writing, research papers, white papers, lab reports, and discussion board requirements.
  • Persuasive – Writing that states the opinion of the writer and attempts to influence the reader. When your student must defend an argument, present their opinion, or create sales and marketing content, they will use this type of writing.  Persuasive writing is the ability to argue a side or position, which may or may not be your opinion.
  • Narrative – Writing in which the author tells a story. The story could be fact or fiction.
  • Descriptive – A type of expository writing that uses the five senses to paint a picture for the reader.

Depending on the college’s requirements, the second English course will usually be a research course that introduces the student to academic style formatting.  Narrative and descriptive writing are “full” or wordy, and paint a picture with words- this is frequently the opposite of the concise academic-styled writing called for in most classes.  Academic writing leaves behind Narrative and Descriptive writing and hits squarely on Expository and Persuasive writing styles.  In general, from this point forward, Expository and Persuasive writing styles will dominate the rest of a typical college student’s experiences.

Of the 4 common categories, you can expect expository and persuasive writing will be the backbone of most college assignments after English 101.  If your teen is not headed into one of the writing careers, their time in high school is best spent honing their ability to write both expository and persuasive papers from now until graduation.

I think it’s over-kill to teach academic stylized writing in high school, but if you want to owllook ahead, your teen will be required to use the writing style customary for their field or major. I’m copying the resource page from the BEST academic writing resource guide on the internet: Perdue OWL.  Seriously – it’s the best.

Professional, Technical Writing

These OWL resources will help you conduct research and compose documents for the workplace, such as memoranda and business letters. This section also includes resources for writing report and scientific abstracts.

Writing in Literature

These OWL resources will help you write about literature and poetry. This section contains resources on literary terms, literary theory, and schools of criticism, as well as resources on writing book reviews.

Writing in the Social Sciences

These OWL resources will help you write in some of the social sciences, such as social work and psychology.

Writing in Engineering

These OWL resources will help you write in a wide range of engineering fields, such as civil and computer engineering. This section contains resources on conducting research, working in teams, writing reports and journal articles, as well as presenting research. This section also contains the material from the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) – Purdue Writing Lab Workshop Series and the material from the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) resources.

Creative Writing

These OWL resources will help you with the basics of creative writing. This section includes resources on writing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Healthcare Writing

These OWL resources will help you write in medical, healthcare, and/or scientific contexts. This section includes original research articles and samples of the healthcare writing produced for a more general, lay-population audience.

Journalism and Journalistic Writing

These OWL resources introduce the basic concepts of journalistic writing. This area includes resources on the Associated Press style of format and writing, as well as resources on how to organize journalistic writing.

Writing in the Purdue SURF Program

These resources were designed as part of a live workshop series for undergraduate science, engineering, and technology students in the Purdue Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Programs. SURF participants engage in summer-long research projects under the direction of Purdue faculty and graduate students.

Writing in Art History

These OWL resources provide guidance on typical genres with the art history discipline that may appear in professional settings or academic assignments.


Writing expectations after English 101

General Education Courses

100 and 200 level introductory courses taught as a foundation or before your major. Expect literature, humanities, and social sciences to be writing-heavy, while science, technology or math will contain little to no writing.  Expect online courses to conduct all of their activities by writing. A typical writing research assignment may be 2-5 pages. Science teachers often ask students to write and illustrate lab reports either from scratch or using a standard template.

Courses in Your Major

300 and 400 level courses in your major will usually require the most writing.  Humanities and social science majors will produce significantly more written work than science, technology or math majors.  Expect increased number of papers, but not necessarily increased length.  Rather than a single research paper, courses in your major may require 2-4 papers.  It is also not uncommon to write a thesis or complete a capstone as a final activity in your major.  An undergraduate thesis is a summary document about a single topic- it’s usually very robust in content and length.  A thesis may range from 15-30 pages.


Writing for Hire

In 2014, I posted an ad on Craigslist hoping to generate a little extra money for our family. I had a good deal of experience writing corporate newsletters, white papers, blog posts, business letters and recipes/menus as an employee.  I’d also just finished a master’s degree, so I had significant experience in academic writing, original research, and the like.  I’d read it was easy to land freelance writing gigs, so I decided to try one or two.   My ad was something to the effect of

” Fast freelance researcher/ writer for hire.  $20/page.

Original content – references available.”

Oh. My. Gosh.  I had no idea of the avalanche about to happen.  Within 24 hours, my inbox had 3-4 requests.  Within the second day, another 3-4.  By the end of the week, I had no less than 20 “gigs” requested.   How many newsletters?  None.  How many resumes or cover letters?  None.  How many blog posts? None.  How many menus? None.  How many white papers?  None.  100% of the gigs were sent by college students asking me to write their assignment for them!  Some of these assignments were simple 2-3 page opinion pieces that would have taken me about 30 minutes to complete.  Others wanted to know if I could guarantee a score of 90 or better. Another asked if I could complete his discussion posts for his online class.  Obviously, I had significant ethical issues with writing papers for students to pass off as their own- this was NOT the kind of work I wanted.  I pulled my ad, but the requests still poured in. A standout was the DOCTORAL CANDIDATE who wanted a quote on writing her 250-page dissertation for her Ph.D. in Education.  (Was I willing to come down from $20/page to $15?)    I declined.

Prior to this experience, I had no idea this was going on.  I’d taught for a long time at the community college, but this never came up with my colleagues.  I decided to share this experience with you because I want you to know that writing for hire is a HUGE business and not at all what I thought.  College students are absolutely hiring out writing.  Why?  I’m not totally sure.  Maybe they don’t have the time or the skills, or maybe they think since “everyone is doing it” that they should too?  Maybe they think they need a certain grade to maintain a scholarship.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth mentioning here so you can talk with your teen about it ahead of time.  Though I’m not sure, I would suspect that purchasing written work and turning it in as your own would probably result in significant consequences, perhaps even expulsion.


Composition Curriculum

In my homeschool, I ended up with was a merger of 2 distinct approaches.   The first approach came from a decade of using The Robinson Curriculum (RC) and the second from using  Institute for Excellence in Writing  (IEW) when my kids were young.  In RC, your child writes a page every day.  In IEW,  they teach you to grade your child’s STYLE, not their CONTENT.  (Sadly, the rest of IEW made my brain melt after 1 year).  So, I made my kids write every day, but never graded it.  They wrote a page and put it away. Every day.  For years. Occasionally I read it, but the point was to help them get over themselves, and not to treat writing as a precious activity that needed to produce a masterpiece every time they put pen to paper; rather that it be more natural and casual.   If your teen suffers from “analysis paralysis” and over-thinks every writing assignment, you could give it a try.  Writing was the only aspect of our homeschool that was truly unstructured, but by the time my kids hit 10th grade, they were all ready for English 101 and were proficient writers.    Still, most parents want more structure.

There is no better curriculum resource than CathyDuffyReviews.  I link to her page all the time because her site is like the Consumer Reports of homeschool curriculum. No matter what variety of curriculum you’re looking for, she’ll have a review for it!

Her list of WRITING curriculum with reviews:

For your “visual learners” and creative students, you might try Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and Designers by Pearson.