HCAP’s “Ask Lucky” blog posts feature questions that Hunter College students often have about academic writing and reading, speaking/presenting in class, and conducting research.
Lucky has a BA in Composition and Rhetoric at Woofie University. He is HCAP’s in-house multilingual specialist. He currently lives in Queens and enjoys taking walks in the park.
I’m a first-year student at Hunter and I’ve been struggling in my English 120- Expository Writing class. I always did well on writing assignments in high school and my teachers always told me they love reading my papers. That’s why I was shocked when I received a C and a B- on my first two papers in English 120. I don’t understand what’s going on. How can I improve on my writing?
I hear you, and if it helps, you are definitely not alone. In general, students transitioning from high school to college often will experience an adjustment period. College readings are more complex and professors will ask that you engage with the texts beyond summarizing key ideas. Writing assignments are one of the key ways you will be asked to demonstrate skills in active reading, critical thinking, synthesis, and argumentation. Students often learn in high school that a proper essay has five paragraphs and consist of an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, that five-paragraph template limits your ability to articulate relationships between complex ideas.
What this all means is that reading and writing will take longer in college and you will need to develop new strategies. You may have to read texts more than once or find a different way to take notes. You may have to start writing your papers earlier so you can write multiple drafts. Experienced writers understand that to produce a good piece of writing they need to spend time on it—it’s a process.
I have a few suggestions below. Try it out and let me know how it goes!
1) Go to your ENG 120 instructor’s office hours if you need clarification on their written comments. Also, ask them for help in tackling difficult class readings or if you are unsure how to implement their feedback as you revise.
2) Get a weekly appointment to work with a tutor at the Hunter Rockowitz Writing Center to help you identify strategies to improve your writing and reading practices. The tutor can also explain their experience of reading your text, such as pointing out confusing ideas or noting how your analysis of evidence supports your argument. In the process, you see how your languages choices impact a reader’s interpretation of your writing, and learn how to revise your prose for your intended audience.
3) Understand your writing process so that you can be more thoughtful in the way you approach writing. Many students’ processes involved some form of prewriting, writing, revising, and proofing (For an overview of the writing process, see: “Crash Course in the Writing process”).
4) Read through the resources on the HCAP Multilingual Learner Resources page. We offer key insights/tips for each resource and most will include a PDF you can download. Our website is mobile friendly, so you can explore it while you commute to Hunter!
5) Write, write, and write. Very few people are naturally prolific writers who can compose clear and elegant in one sitting. Good writing is not an innate ability, but rather it is a skill that is cultivated through thoughtful practice.