Why Writing in College Differs from Writing in High School

Making the transition from writing in high school to writing for college may be easy for some, but for the majority of students it can be a puzzling and frustrating experience. The same writing that received you good marks in the past may now be getting comments from professors that your writing doesn’t meet the current academic standard. While you may have a strong grasp of the subject, your professors will expect that you demonstrate both your understanding and your reasoning in a different manner. It isn’t just that standards in college are higher, but the whole structure and style of writing is different, too.

The main differences

While in college, you’ll be asked to use writing to fulfill different tasks. There will be occasions where you’ll succeed by summarizing a reading accurately and displaying your understanding of it. There may be times when you’re assigned writing a reaction to a book or subject, and you must offer your fresh perspective about it. More often than not, you will be required to do the latter. In college, you are writing as a scholar for scholars. This approach requires that you analyze a topic and include a worthwhile claim about it that hasn’t been previously offered. Plus, you will need to support your claim with good reasoning and cite objective data, all in four or five pages that you organize as an argument. It is unlikely that this style of scholarly writing will have been taught to you when you were writing in high school.

Arguing your case

In college, an argument is not contentious wrangling along the lines of unsupported, subjective opinions, but something carefully, systematically, and coherently structured in such a way that it demonstrates clear thinking supported by other materials and resources. In other words, you will be writing not only to state what you think, but to demonstrate why it has merit to challenge the thinking of others. You will produce your best arguments by presenting a series of claims, reasons and responses to possible challenges so the reader can see not just what you think, but whether you have made a convincing case based on your research.

Simply put, in academia an argument is a serious and focused conversation among people who are intensely interested in getting to the bottom of scholarly topics in a cooperative manner, while most high school students aren’t taught this form of arguing.


When writing for college, you are asked to read, do research, gather data, analyze it, and then communicate it to readers in a form which enables them to assess it and use it. You are asked to do this because you are part of a scholarly community, and because in just about any profession you decide to pursue after you graduate, you will have to do research, think about your findings, make decisions about complex matters, and then explain those decisions to others, often in writing.

When you are presenting your arguments, it is critical you provide objective evidence to support your claims and cite your sources. You will be expected to format these references to meet specific guidelines, often to either the APA or MLA formatting style. If you do not follow the latest revision requirements, you will lose points on your paper. Fortunately, you have the option of using formatting software to ensure your papers are formatted accurately with just a few clicks of the mouse.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ or write to:
info @ referencepointsoftware.com

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

Both comments and pings are currently closed.