Friday, March 6, 2009

From High School to University: Essay Style

For students pursuing a university education after high school, you have much to look forward to and even more to learn. Depending on your university program, you will need to know how to write well. Some may say that the first thing you'll be told on your first day of a university class is to forget about the traditional 5 paragraph essay you learned to write in high school: a fancy-pantsy introduction that catches the readers' attention, a meaty middle part where you support your 3 main arguments, and a feel-good conclusion that is little more than a reiteration of your introduction.

When you write a 750, 1,000, or 2,500 word essay in university, there is no room for extra words. I would suggest taking an Orwellian approach and say what you need to say in as few words as possible. You have no room for catching a readers' attention with a smug story in your introduction. If you are writing an English literature essay, you need to start talking about the poem or story you are analyzing immediately.

Be Confident

What you are writing matters to you and your reader. Take sides of a debate and trust your argument. Leave nothing for the reader to guess. Let me know what your thesis is right away. And most of all be assertive. If you are arguing the legitimacy of stem cell research, don't second guess yourself. Purporting a new paradigm for adoptive children in Canadian society? Say so and believe that your views have weight; then give your argument credence by supporting it with fact-based information.

What grade?

In university you will not receive a marking rubric for writing assignments like you have in high school. There is no set of guidelines for grading essays in university. A professor or TA may have some idea of what a "B" or "A" paper looks like, but don't expect to receive a handout that lists specific criteria as such. Sometimes the closest staircase may suffice when grading essays by:
1) stacking the essays at the top of the stairs;
2) kicking the essays down the stairs;
3) receiving a mark based on which step your essay lands: the lower the step down the stairs, the lower the grade that you receive. Everything is relative.

At Nipissing University, there are many tools at your disposal to help you write well. A great resource is an older woman who works at the school, known as the "Grammar Granny," is not only pushing retirement age, but will push you to write better, to scrutinize every sentence, to avoid unnecessary words, and to reduce comma splices. Upper year students are available as tutors and some as mentors too.

But, the best resource available is your professor. He/she is able (and indirectly required) to meet with students and to hold office hours. These folks have written many essays during their time and many are more than happy to help you. Take advantage of them and heed their advice. It will help you make the leap from high school to university level essay writing.


Anonymous said...

Grammar is the bane of many. English is a difficult language to learn. You'll become rich if you can figure out how to make learning grammar fun. Happy Literacy Month (March)!

Anonymous said...

I been reading your blog for awhile now, its good, nice work.

As for University essays, get help quick. I didnt and its wasnt pretty. In high school essays were so easy. My marks on my first year essays were so disappointing to me, i never got a low mark on a essay before.
For first year, dont worry if your first essay is only 60 something, visit the writing drop in centre or your professors most are really nice, and there to help you.

Anonymous said...

Not to be rude, but what I find upsetting about this is that I am in first year university and we have to go to EXTRA office hours instead of learning what we need to during school. As you said, office hours as designated by the professor. It would be one thing if we understood in highschool what we were supposed to do in University, but why teach us something completely irrelevant in the most important years of our school lives? Students are completely unprepared for the transistion and there should be in class explinations on how to do our work. Were not paying for nothing.