How to Transform Your High School Writing Style for College

Transitioning from high school to college means taking your writing skills to the next level. You’re going to need to develop and hone a more sophisticated and polished writing style to craft a high-quality, college paper that will get the grades you’re looking for. These tips will help you make that transformation:

Go over any comments that the professor made on your previous papers

Use this past criticism as a way to improve your current paper. Be especially aware of any errors that you made repeatedly (such as leaving out supporting evidence, lack of clarity, and erroneous grammar) and do your best to correct them. Look back on positive comments as well; this will help you highlight your strengths as a writer. 

Don’t make generalizations

Be calculated and specific in your writing, and avoid making broad generalizations. Stay away from characterizing ideas in vague terms or with black and white words such as “good” and “bad.” Instead of describing a character from a novel as a decidedly evil villain, examine what traits she displays that lead the reader to view her as unjust, and cite examples of events from her past that may have led her to act in this way. 

Use parallel structure

Parallel structure is an easy grammatical mistake to clean up, and using it correctly will give your writing a boost up to the college level. For example, when you’re listing actions, make sure each verb in your sentence is in the same form:

  • Incorrect: He walked quickly to the door, grabbing the handle, and threw it open.
  • Correct: He walked quickly to the door, grabbed the handle, and threw it open.
  • Incorrect: Caitlin likes gardening, horseback riding, and to play golf.
  • Correct: Caitlin likes gardening, horseback riding, and playing golf.

Avoid rambling, over-explanation, and wordiness

Get straight to your point using clear and concise language.

Watch out for misplaced and dangling modifiers

Modifiers should be placed close to the word that they are modifying so that a reader can easily understand what word is being modified. For example, the placement of the word “gently” in the following 2 sentences can make the intended meaning confusing:

  • Incorrect: Jake held the baby bird in his hands gently.
  • Correct: Jake gently held the baby bird in his hands.

Also be careful with dangling modifiers—phrases located at the beginning of a sentence—which function as an adjective. When used incorrectly, they do not modify any specific word in the sentence or the wrong word altogether. The following is an example of a dangling modifier:

  • Incorrect: Coming from California, it is common to be frequently cold in the harsh Midwest winters.

Because the phrase “Coming from California” is placed at the beginning of the sentence, it automatically modifies the first noun in that sentence (“it”). This modification doesn’t make sense nor does it convey what the writer wanted to express to the reader because “it” does not come from California. This sentence could be revised to the following:

  • Correct: For a person coming from California, it is common to be frequently cold in the harsh Midwest winters.

Be careful with commas

Avoid comma splices (using a comma to link together two independent clauses) and run on sentences such as:

  • Comma Splice: The battle was over, they had turned the tide of the war.
  • Run On Sentence: The battle was over they had turned the tide of the war. 

You can correct these mistakes in the following ways: 

  • Make it into two sentences using a period: The battle was over. They had turned the tide of the war.
  • Don’t be afraid of the semicolon: The battle was over; they had turned the tide of the war.
  • Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction: The battle was over, and they had turned the tide of the war.
  • Make a dependent clause using after, although, because, etc.: After the battle was over, they had turned the tide of the war.

Consult your writing handbook or style guide

A writing handbook or style guide is a great investment for your freshmen year of college. Check to see if your college library or bookstore has one in particular that they recommend.

Make use of your local writing center and professor's office hours

Many colleges have writing centers whose tutors will read over your paper before you hand it in and work with you to make it truly excellent. Go visit your professor during their office hours to get advice and discuss ideas you have for your paper.

More is going to be expected of you in college than it was in high school, but it’s the perfect place to hone your writing skills so that by the time you graduate, you can bring these polished skills with you into the job market.

Tara Jackson is an education and career prep enthusiast. When she’s not writing about or researching colleges and careers for EduTrek, she enjoys reading classic literature, hiking in the mountains, and traveling.

Categories: College Life   Tags: writing tips, writing style