What is College Writing?

College courses demand many different kinds of writing that employ a variety of strategies for different audiences.

You may be required to write long essays or short answers in response to examination questions. You may be asked to keep a journal, write a lab report, and document the process you use to perform research. You may be called upon to create a design document, write a business report or plan, and report on the results of research. These are only some of the many types of writing you may engage in throughout your college career.

College writing, also called academic writing, is assigned to teach you the critical thinking and writing skills needed to communicate in courses and in the workplace. To acquire and practice these skills, you are asked to write many different types of assignments under different circumstances. Sometimes your instructor will assign a topic and define the audience; sometimes you will have to define and limit the topic and audience yourself. In any case, college writing teaches you about the series of decisions you must make as you forge the link between your information and your audience.

Understanding Your Assignment

Your writing task begins when you receive your writing assignment from your instructor. The first step is to make sure you understand the assignment and what your instructor wants you to do with it. To do this, review the requirements of the assignment. These may be in the form of an assignment sheet or a description of the assignment, or they may be given to you verbally during a class lecture. Your requirements may also be stated as a one-line entry in your syllabus or as a short-essay question. In any case, to understand your writing project, you should ask and answer the following kinds of questions:

  • What type of assignment is this? What is its purpose?
  • Who is the audience for this assignment—my instructor, my classmates, or someone else?
  • How will I find my content—from my opinion or research?
  • When is the assignment due to the instructor, and in what form is it due?
  • How will the assignment be evaluated?
  • What are my goals in undertaking the assignment?

The writing process can be divided into the prewriting, writing, and rewriting or revising phases.

In the prewriting phase, you might try to clarify:
  • what you want to write about
  • how you think and feel about your topic
  • how you want to approach your topic
  • what other materials and notes you might need
  • how to organize these materials
  • what kind of audience you are writing for

You plan the content and organization of your paper or assignment during this first phase. In the writing phase, you implement your plan—your strategy—working out the details and fine-tuning your thoughts. In the rewriting, or revising phase, you review what you have written and consider how and where your writing can be improved.


For more detailed information about the writing and rewriting phases, see UMUC's Online Guide to Writing and Research