1. Undergraduate stage
In most colleges, the first-year students are called freshmen. As they study and progress through their semester hours, they are later called sophomore (usually at a second college year), junior and senior students (third and fourth year respectively).
For each of these titles, writing requirements are not very much different. The major change happens once a student gets accepted to a college or university. Freshmen are used to a high school semi-autonomous studying style when a lot depends on the teacher’s guidance and control. High school students get plenty of short take-home assignments, such as writing essays on free topics. Once they come to college, a great shift happens in both their assignments and mentality. At college, students are expected to show greater maturity and independence in written works.
Content is more important than format
Hence, the first piece of advice for undergraduate students is to stop focusing too much on formal requirements, such as a number of words or pages, and instead start paying more attention to WHAT they write. Numbers, font styles, and page margins can be all adjusted later. The key is to research the most important problem, ask the right questions, and support your position with arguments and facts.
Planning is the key
Instead of hundreds of written assignments, college students may get only a dozen or even fewer during a semester. That may seem like a walk in the park, and many students make a mistake by feeling too relaxed. The troubles begin when they realize the complexity of their assignments and how little time they have left to complete those.
Thus, planning is the key in college writing. Estimate how much time you may need for understanding the topic or coming up with a topic of your choice, researching the supporting literature, writing itself, editing and proofreading. Do not be afraid to start a calendar and to make a detailed schedule of your writing activities.
Choose the best pass
Once you have trained yourself the basic college writing skills and noticed which topics and scientific areas interest you the most, it’s time to narrow your efforts. Usually, by the sophomore stage, students are required to make a choice of research disciplines and areas. According to those areas, they need to independently choose classes and make up their curriculum. For your future writing success, enroll only in those classes, which will support your research and writing aspirations. For instance, if you are interested in quantitative research writing methods, it’s better to enroll in statistics and math classes. Alternatively, if you feel more comfortable with qualitative and narrative writing, you should take humanities and art classes.
2. Graduate stage
If you think that the undergraduate stage has made a major disruption in your writing approach, you have not seen anything yet. Because the real challenge awaits you in the graduate stage. Here, usually at the fourth and fifth year, students are expected to write bachelor’s and master’s theses, some even dare to proceed to dissertation papers.
At this stage, writing requires not just preparation and schedules, but strategic planning. The degree paper is written throughout the whole year. At first, students choose their topics and degree committee chairman and members, later start researching and narrowing down their topics before surveying the supporting literature and beginning writing.
The second piece of advice here is to take your time. It’s better to spend more time and effort finding the right research focus and inspiration, rather than going the wrong way and finishing with a weak paper (at the end of the year!). Bounce back ideas with the chairman of your defense committee or the members and seek their approval first. If your chosen topic needs improvements, you will have feedback from your committee members.
Graduate-level writing rules
The purpose of writing a graduate paper is not to make a serious research breakthrough. It is more important to show the ability to use specialized terminology, to move logically from a hypothesis to its confirmation or refutation. At the same time, a graduate student must show readiness to adhere to scientific criteria in the degree paper. The following general rules must be followed:
- Restrict your research to your chosen topic (research question, hypothesis, etc.);
- Strict compliance to the formal requirements specified by the college (department);
- Compliance of the scientific style and terminology to the chosen topic and discipline;
- Timely sending of materials (for initial committee review, their feedback, and the final version submission).
Special attention should be paid to such a parameter as the uniqueness of text or the absence of plagiarism. Even a single plagiarized paragraph, sentence, or incorrectly formatted citation can lead to paper rejection and degree refusal. It won’t matter if your plagiarism was intentional or unintentional. Hence, graduate students should always strictly follow citation rules and check their texts for plagiarism using all available tools.