Writing Basics

Basic writing at the college level may seem like an intimidating task. However, keeping a few important points in mind will lead you to a successful paper.

  • Kinds of Papers Required
  • Narrowing Your Subject
  • Organization of the Paper
  • Writing the Paper
  • Citing
  • Starting Early

Kinds of Papers Required

There are many kinds of papers that you may be asked to write during your college career. Here are three common types:

  • Argumentative- persuades readers to see things in a particular way or support some type of action.
  • Analysis - provides a thoughtful interpretation or understanding of an entire work or particular theme.
  • Rhetorical - describes how a literary piece affects a particular interpretation or reaction and comments on what strategies are used to connect with readers, such as emotional or logical hooks.


Ask the instructor or consult your syllabus for the format and length.

Narrowing Your Subject

The most common criticism of papers by college professors is that the subject is too broad. Narrow your subject three or four times as follows:


Choose a topic you are at least slightly familiar with so you can narrow down successfully.

Organization of the Paper

A good college paper flows easily. Organizing your paper by first writing an outline will help ensure good flow. A good outline has:

  1. A topic that is clearly stated.
  2. Intro, body, and conclusion.
  3. Heading, subheadings, and examples.
  4. Points that can easily be developed beyond brief statements.
  5. Points that can be backed with quotes from authorities or illustrations for examples.


  • Try reciting your outline to a friend and ask if they were able to follow your main points.
  • Go to your school’s writing center for feedback.

Writing the Paper

  • Discover
  • Design
  • Develop/Deepen


This is the process of deciding what to write about. Remember to:

  • Consult with your school’s librarian to successfully research your topic.
  • Jot down notes and ideas during the time you spend brainstorming.
  • Choose something you are interested in.
  • Spend time really thinking about your subject.


This is when you begin your first draft. Papers typically have three main parts: Intro, Body, and Conclusion.

Intro - If you have difficulty writing an introduction, remember that it serves two purposes: 1) To introduce your topic and ideas. 2) To get the reader interested. The following guidelines can help make that happen.

  1. Ask yourself a question, for example- “How did I get interested in the topic?”
  2. nswer your question- “I noticed that everyone uses a laptop in class.”
  3. Formalize- “Laptops are being used extensively in college courses.”


  1. Ask- “How can I get someone else interested?”
  2. Answer- “People should know the pros and cons of using a laptop for everything. Some people can’t do simple math, read a textbook, or take quality notes anymore.”
  3. Formalize- “There may be problems with total reliance on laptops. We may be raising generations of people who do not have necessary skills for success.”



Body - This will be the majority of your paper and will include the details outlined in your intro.

  1. Organize your paper into headings and subheadings.
  2. Try to be as clear and concise as possible. You can EXCLAIM a statement, next EXPLAIN that statement, and then provide an EXAMPLE of that statement.
  3. Be specific.

Conclusion - Do not leave your paper without a concluding statement.

  1. Summarize the main points covered in your intro.
  2. Make a prediction about the future, give an opinion, or give a suggestion.
  3. Cite your work on a separate page from your conclusion.


Writing is an iterative process, meaning you should revise your paper several times in order to more clearly develop your arguments and deepen their impact. This is where you answer your audience’s question, “So what...?”

  • **Go to your school’s writing center to get feedback.**
  • Take time to read your paper out loud so you can hear any problems with wording.
  • Shorten sentences as necessary to be more concise
  • Leave your paper for 2-3 days and then come back to it. You will quickly see places in your paper that are unclear or difficult to follow.


  • Try using one page for each paragraph in the beginning for better organization.
  • Follow your outline
  • Avoid using, ”I...” in any of your writing. It decreases the academic credibility of your paper.
  • Spell check, while helpful, is not a substitute for thoroughly proofreading your paper.


Information used in your paper from sources other than yourself must be cited; otherwise, you will be guilty of plagiarism. The two most common styles for citing are:

  • APA (American Psychological Association)
  • MLA (Modern Language Association)

Each style has its own rules to follow depending on what you are citing, i.e. textbooks, articles, websites, interviews, etc. Your professor may prefer one style over the other so make sure to ask.


  • You can easily find how to cite your material by searching online. For example, search: “citing a scholastic journal in mla style.” Owlpurdue.edu is also a good resource for proper citing.

Starting Early

THIS POINT CANNOT BE STRESSED ENOUGH! Most papers are assigned well in advance of their due date so that you have time to:

  • Do your research.
  • Write your first draft.
  • Develop/Deepen
  • Write a final draft (spell check, proofread, cite, etc.)
  • hand it in.

Be sure you set up a schedule on your calendar that allows you plenty of time to do these things.