The Secret to College Success – Part Two of Three

Finally, it’s time to relax! After all, you have already been accepted to a great college. You have moved into your dorm room. You have met your roommate. You have managed to find your way to your classes. You have figured out the best places to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You have college mastered! But wait…I have to read the first two chapters by when? I have to write two five-page papers by when? Our first major exam is when? Just in case you thought college was going to be one big party, you had better think again. College is going to be tough—especially if you have not fine-tuned three important skills during your high school years. The three most important skills for college success are:

  • Reading skills
  • Writing skills
  • Study skills

After all, these skills are the means by which you acquire information and then transmit your understanding of that information to your teachers.

In last week’s article, we discussed five ways to improve your college reading skills. Next week, we will talk about five strategies to study in college more efficiently and effectively. In this article we offer five solid strategies on how to improve your college writing skills.

Five Tips on How to Improve Your College Writing Skills.

All college writing has three elements: content, style, and structure. All great writing focuses on all three of these elements, while common writing too often focuses just on one or two. You can do hours and hours of excellent research and still fall short on the writing simply because you did not focus on style and structure. Similarly, your writing can be well structured but lack proper content or style. Let’s begin by discussing these three elements.


Content is simply what your paper is about. The four most common types of writing assignments are: 

  • Personal Narratives
  • Research Papers
  • Opinion Pieces
  • Persuasive Essays

In a personal narrative, the content will be related to you. In most cases, you will be writing about an important event or person in your life. The Common Application essay is an example of a personal narrative. It provides you with six potential topics which range from a meaningful experience, to overcoming a challenge, to something you would like to change. If you are writing a research paper, the content will be related to the subject you are researching. Examples could include climate change or another scientific concept, a historical time period, a court ruling or particular events, or the life of a particular person such as a historical figure. Opinion pieces are papers that ask you to share your opinion, belief, or feelings, about something. The subject matter can vary greatly, from a law, to someone’s opinion, to an article about virtually anything. Persuasive essays are designed to sway the reader’s opinion in a particular direction.  The main difference between an opinion piece and a persuasive essay is that the former is simply a statement of your opinion or belief, while the latter is intended to change or solidify another person’s opinion to agree with your stated opinion.

While there are definitely differences between these types of writing, there are also similarities. These five tips may be applied equally across all types of writing.

College Writing Tip One: Provide a Clear and Easy to Follow Structure.

Creating a solid structure for your college writing assignment is like building the frame of a house. If you do it properly, it will be relatively easy to attach the floors, ceilings, and walls. With writing assignments, you have main points and details. Generally speaking, your main points will be the topic sentences of your paragraphs, and the details will fall in line inside that paragraph to support the main points. Each paper should be well thought out before writing. Decide how many main points you will have, and this will tell you, roughly, how many paragraphs your essay will contain. Make sure that what follows the topic sentence actually supports that topic. Furthermore, great writing has a clear introduction and an even clearer conclusion. In this sense, writing is a lot like music. It should have a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. 

College Writing Tip Two: Offer A Counterpoint or Perspective

In music, a stanza that departs from the natural rhythm and chord progression of a song is referred to as a bridge. In writing, it is referred to as a counterpoint. One mark of a good writer is that she has the confidence to offer alternative perspectives and the ability to overcome them with stronger opinions or examples. For example, if you are writing in support of a particular opinion, you should provide the other side of that opinion, or a counter opinion. You can acknowledge that not everyone agrees with your perspective, and state what their disagreement is. This would then be followed by your reasons for disagreeing with this perspective and the evidence needed to overcome it. 

College Writing Tip Three:  Use Literary Devices Regardless of the Category of Writing

Whether you are writing a research paper, opinion piece, a personal narrative, or a persuasive essay, use stylistic elements to make your paper stand out. There is no rule that says a research paper, for example, cannot be written stylistically. Therefore, do not hesitate to use devices such as metaphors, similes, sentence structure variation, personification, oxymoron, repetition of identifiable words and phrases for emphasis, and alliteration. Great writing is great writing, regardless of the assignment.

College Writing Tip Four: Use Appropriate Connectors to String Together Sentences Within a Paragraph, and The Paragraphs Themselves. 

Use both negative and positive connectors to string your sentences together and give them more logic and flow. If you are connecting two sentences that both support a particular main point, consider using connectors such as: indeed, also, in addition, moreover, etc. If you are introducing a contrasting sentence, you should connect it to the prior sentence with a negative connector such as: however, nonetheless, regardless, or in spite of this.  Connectors help readers understand how information flows within a paragraph. These clues help to create a writing assignment that is both clear and easy to understand.

College Writing Tip Five: Support Your Conclusions with Valid Research or Reasons

Whether you are writing a research paper or an opinion piece, you must support the views that you propound. In a research paper, you do this by citing credible evidence. Of course, you must also know the rules for citation of particular supporting evidence. These are usually provided by your teacher or professor, or, alternatively, you can follow norms established for the citation of evidence.

In an opinion or persuasive piece, you do so by giving reasons for a particular point of view. It is not enough to merely state your opinion or provide a call to action without reason. You must go far deeper by citing others’ research or giving insights into logical reasons for a particular belief, viewpoint, or opinion.  

Next Week: Five Tips on How to Improve Your College Study Skills.

About Neil Chyten: Neil Chyten is the founder and president of NC Global Education, Inc. He is also the creator and author of the RANDD Reading and Study Skills System, as well as several books on test preparation, writing, and college counseling.    

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