College Survival Guide/Improving Writing Skills

Intro edit

Some people ignored English while growing up; some people were not taught correctly; and others had different obstacles. A student will not last long in college if he or she does not effectively use the English language.

This guide is meant to help improve your English language skills in relation to a collegiate setting. This guide does not seek to make you a great writer, and there are other Wikibooks that cover writing more in depth.

You will have to grow accustomed to writing multi page papers properly and efficiently. You should also be able to quickly proofread and revise your work to minimize grammatical and spelling errors. The grading of a paper depends on many factors: course level, course, paper requirements, etc. As someone aspiring to be a professional or a scholar, you will need to write like a professional or a scholar.

Some people might think this is too much trouble. However, if you don't learn it, you'll be in trouble.

Preparing yourself edit

The best way to master reading and writing is to read and write. Below are some exercises you can try to improve your skills.

  • Check out books from your local library and read one every few days. Summarize your thoughts on each book in a diary.
  • Attend a writing workshop.
  • Expand articles on wikis. Cite your sources when doing so.
  • Write letters to the editor, online reviews for products, and other short form writing.
  • Read manuals of style. Ask yourself why some writing styles are different than others.
  • Review things you wrote in the past. Are you happy with them? If so, what did you like? If not, how would you rewrite it?
  • An easy way to practice is writing in a journal. As a person continues to write his or her thoughts in a journal, he or she will come across spelling and grammar errors and be able to correct them. Good writing comes with consistent proofreading and revision.

Good writing is not something that is achieved overnight. Keep at it, and you will improve.

Writing in General edit

Coherence edit

Make one sentence link to the next. Afterwards, you could use transitions to go from that sentence to this sentence. However, this sentence may not be as apparent as the last sentence. Of course, one could make an argument about that statement... Do you notice the coherence? That's why you need to start practicing coherence before you write a college paper.

Rhetoric edit

Put simply, Rhetoric is a technique used to influence the reader. This is critical when writing at a college level, as you will often have to make points and take sides when authoring a paper. People may perceive the writer to be an intelligent writer because of his or her ability to create stylish prose. The trick is to make the prose seem logical and reasonable.

By analyzing style, seeing how it is used, and applying its concepts, a student can vastly improve their writing. By using rhetorical figures in different situations, and throwing them around like spices in a dish, you will be working toward that perfect meal that earns 5 stars on presentation and taste. You ever hear about a person analyzing a text? You ever wonder how that is done correctly? Well, it takes some practice, but understanding rhetoric is a good start, mainly because rhetoric is about understanding terminology and applying it.

Here's an exercise as an example. Grab a newspaper and identity rhetoric techniques in it. Choose Newsweek, Times, USA Today, or some other popular publication. Your job is to identity the parts of style. Afterwards, you job is to write a paper, restate the thesis, and change the usage of rhetorical figures. Do not make it look the same; make it look different, but say the same thing using rhetoric.

The idea is to analyze the content, style, and the form it takes. Afterwards, reword the content, and reshape the form of style. By doing this, you will gain practice and experience in rhetoric. Also, if you type up blogs or journal entries, implement rhetoric into each entry you make.

Proofreading edit

Proofreading is the a key step of polishing a paper. Never turn in a college paper without proofreading it. And after you do that, do it again. Ask a friend to read through your paper after that - An extra set of eyes can make all the difference.

Many people speak out loud while proofreading their paper - This is highly suggested. Another technique is to use a text to speech program. By using such a program a person can listen to the text version of the paper spoken aloud, and find mistakes in the paper when a word is spoken incorrectly. There are AI based assistants in some word processors that can also aid proofreading.

Grammar edit

Grammar is an essential part to writing a paper. Sometimes, a person must relearn grammar and practice his or her English skills. An affordable way to do this is to go to a local library and pick up grammar books and grammar exercise books. If your local library doesn't suit you or have the materials, you could go to a college library. An interesting thing about a college library is that you usually don't need to be a student to actually walk around and read the books; a college library, sometimes, offers more books than a local library. In this situation, you would walk through the library, find the book catalogue, grab some grammar books, and sit down somewhere to read them.

Practicing grammar by yourself is hard. How does someone know if they are using correct grammar? In this situation, one of the best things to do is consult a grammar book. There are also forums online for people who are learning English. These forums often provide people who are helpful toward those learning ESL and refreshing their English skills.

Whenever you write something, type something, or say something, check to see if you're using proper grammar. Grab a style usage and grammar book. Think about how you presented things. Were they correct?

Types of Papers edit

Thesis Paper edit

Paragraph One edit

What kind of bullets are you putting in your gun?

When you create a first paragraph, you have to notice that each sentence is a bullet. However, it's a certain type of bullet. Each bullet has its own property and effect on the individual you shoot it at. Nonetheless, the bullet is going to whiz through your paper and have an affect on the reader. If you've ever seen Outlaw Star, you understand that each bullet Gene Starwind has will have a different property. Some bullets are more unique than others, yet they all have a purpose. You have to notice that each sentence in the first paragraph has a purpose. The thesis sentence could be seen as the gun that you load all the bullets into. This thesis sentence is typically the last sentence of the first paragraph. Imagine that each previous sentence is a bullet being loaded into the thesis chamber. The thesis sentence is the most important sentence in the paper. It is the controlling sentence that allows you to shoot the bullets. Otherwise, you might as well throw the bullets at your reader, and that won't do you any good.

Each time you type a sentence into your first paragraph, imagine that you're loading the chamber. Each bullet needs to slide into the chamber with relative ease. Imagine what each sentence sounds like as it's slided into the thesis. The words and thoughts need to connect to each other. Otherwise, when you shoot the gun, it might become jammed. The gun wouldn't be of any use to you.

Body edit

  • How are you going to shoot your gun?

When you shoot each sentence, it begins to have its own environment. Each environment takes shape, reason, and adjusts to its surroundings. In a way, a bullet in the first paragraph is shot and creates a paragraph environment of its own. This bullet creates a world of physics, details, examples, and facts. However, as the bullet begins to make contact, the environment is aware, impacted, and changes because of the bullet's presence. You want each word, sentence, and thought to ricochet inside the person's mind. Each thought in the paper bounces around in the reader. However, it all has to make sense. It all has to be rational. It all has to have a motive, a reason to be there.

  • What are you talking about?
  • What are these things connected to?
  • Why should I care about what you're saying?
  • Why are you talking about this?

You have to address a thought. These thoughts need something to connect to. These thoughts would be connected to the thesis. Of course the bullets came from the thesis. However, if the bullets don't come from the gun, the reader is going to think God is flicking pieces of rock at him or her at amazing speeds. The person being shot at can't make any sense of what's going on. They'll question why they are in this environment, and they'll want to get out of this odd and absurd predicament. However, if you can show that the sentences are bullet, they come from the thesis chamber, then the person being shot at can understand what's going on. You have a motive, and that motive gives cause to the chamber and bullets. Although this might seem a bit macrabe, it serves a good example.

Argumentative Research Paper edit

"It's not what you know, it's what you can prove." - Alonzo from Training Day.

Argumentation become a common aspect of post-secondary education, yet so many people don't understand it. There are many reasons why people don't understand it, but perhaps the best reason is because it is philosophically rooted. Many people believe philosophy can be hard to grasp without correct guidance. It can often be the failure of those who teach argumentation to teach its history and philosophical side. In this sense, understanding who created argumentation, what they intended it to be, and how it works will allow someone to better understand argumentation.

You say you know something, but can you really say it? I'm not so sure until you can prove it.

History of Argumentation edit

Argumentation is deeply rooted in philosophy, and yet it has adapted to be part of communication, and those who study communication adapted argumentation to their field. Argumentation has a large history preceding Aristotle.

Argumentation Theory, as many people call it, had a large amount to do with formal logic. Aristotle was one of many people to contribute to argumentation with the ideas of logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos would be the logical side of the argument; ethos would be the ethics, character, or type of person the arguer present him- or herself to be; and pathos would be the emotional, yet relevant, side of the argument.

Aristotle was also responsible for bringing out the idea of "enthymeme": An argument with one conclusion, one premise, and one unstated premise.

A person must keep in mind that Aristotle is who most persons refer to when they are studying argumentation. Throughout the history of argumentation, people such as Scholars have used Aristotle's reasoning in hopes to become better arguers.

Why should people argue? edit

Although a person can remain skeptical of Truth, justice, and the ways people should go about things, these are the things that are often argued. Yet some people might take an egoist view of argumentation along with a pragmatic view. If a person thinks, "This doesn't effect me, so why should I care?" Ah, but decisions might affect you. The idea is that the history of a person allowed him or her to arrive at a point in time. This history has so far allowed the person to live and read these words. It is this history that enables a person to argue.

However, were the person a skeptic, then he or she might say, "I'm skeptical about the things you say, the conclusions you reach, and the reasons you use. A person cannot know anything until he or she is that thing. Therefore, I'm not going to argue." Yet the irony is that for a person to be a skeptic, he or she must give reasons for being skeptical. Along with these reasons comes out the conclusion, "Therefore, I'm not going to argue." The skeptic has just argued.

In both of these scenarios, it is shown that argumentation is required in many cases. Argumentation allows a person to fight for his or her own views. That does not necessarily mean he or she is wrong, but it means simply that the person is arguing with others and presenting views. These views must be supported with reasons (premises) and at least a conclusion. As a person understands argumentation more and more, he or she will begin to notice argumentation in many places.

To bring us back to an argument already present:

  • Reason 1: This doesn't affect me.
  • Reason 2: Things that don't affect me do not matter in my life. (Unstated assumption.)
  • Conclusion: Therefore, I don't care.

One way to attack an argument is to attack one of its stated reasons (also called premises), which in this case would be reason 1. I have stated that things do affect you. Things in this physical world are dependent on something else. Nothing is independent in this universe. Therefore, you are affected by something one way or another.

  • Premise 1: Things in this physical world are dependent on other things.
  • Premise 2: Nothing is independent in this universe.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, you are affected by something in one way or another.

If you can somehow prove to me that you are independent of this universe, then maybe I'll accept your conclusion. Of course, I'll need evidence of this.

What are you proving? edit

  • What am I trying to prove and how am I trying to prove it?

Pick a weapon:

  1. Formal Logic
  2. Informal Logic

If you're taking a philosophy course, you will probably be doing formal logic. If you're taking an English course, you will probably be doing informal logic. Yet even choosing your weapon for arguing depends on an audience. Some audiences in pure reason and logic will accept formal logic. However, this ideal audience rarely, if ever, exists. Such an audience that accepts formal logic might be one person who studies it in depth or an audience of logicians and philosophers. The point of this is that your audience will be the ones to either accept or dismiss your argument.

The Technical side of Argumentation edit

  1. Premise
  2. Warrant
  3. Conclusion (Claim)
  4. Enthymeme
  5. Evidence (Grounds)
  6. Backing (Backup evidence)
  7. Rebuttal
  • An argument must include one premise and one conclusion.

A premise (reason) is used to reach a conclusion (claim).

Words to remember:

  1. Premise (reason)
  2. Conclusion (claim)

An argument with one premise and one conclusion is called an enthymeme. An enthymeme is an "incomplete argument" that is missing one premise. This one premise, called an unstated assumption, is unprovided by the arguer.

  • Person 1: You're car is broke (conclusion) because someone blew up its engine (premise).

In formal writing, people often place the conclusion and premise(s) next to each other. However, some implied arguments do not make the conclusion and premises so obvious.

  • Person 2 thinks, "I guess so. A blown up engine cannot process gas or other things required for it to run." (unstated assumption)

The unstated assumption (also known as "warrant") is provided by the audience, in this case Person 2. In other words, the audience assumes a premise and fills in the gap for the enthymeme; the audience mentally provides another premise without the arguer providing it.

  • Arguer: Hitting people is wrong.
  • Random person walking by: Why do you think that?
  • Arguer: Hurting people causes suffering. (Major Premise / Major Reason).
  • Random person: I agree.

If you haven't figured it out yet: If someone doesn't offer you premises and only a conclusion, it's difficult to argue with him or her. As you start to learn argumentation more, you might see people only stating conclusions and giving no reasons. If you would like to start an argument with someone, you simply need to ask, "Why do you think that?" From there, you can draw out a person's reasons and argue against or for them.

But the question is, Why do these people agree?

  1. Enthymeme (Argument with unstated assumption not included)
  2. Big Thesis (Claim or Conclusion)
  3. Small Theses (Premises / Reasons)
  • Major Premise
  • Minor Premise
  1. Evidence (or Grounds)

Argumentation in Media edit

In the movie Training Day, the protagonist encounters the antagonist, Alonzo, played by Danzel Washington. Alonzo is a cop gone bad, and the protagonist needs a way to prove it. Although the protagonist knows very well that Alonzo is a bad cop involved with drugs and crime, there is little evidence to support the protagonist's claim (also called a conclusion). Eventually the protagonist meets Alonzo at his apartment and finds Alonzo preparing money to give to a Russian gangster that Alonzo angered. Alonzo needs to pay a "debt of respect," which in this case is a large sum of money, to the Russian gangster. The protagonist encounters Alonzo and they both go through a dialogue about the protagonist not being able to prove that Alonzo is a bad cop. Alonzo than recites the line, "It's not what you know, it's what you can prove." The protagonist sees the large bag of money and Alonzo notices that the protagonist is going to use the bag of money as evidence to support that claim that Alonzo is a bad cop. Eventually after Alonzo and the protagonist get into a long and dangerous fight, the protagonist obtains the bag of money and says that it will be used as evidence. The bag, of course, would have Alonzo's fingerprints and could be tested by forensics.

The movie Training Day includes many things that revolve around argumentation and is a recommended watch. If you've seen it already, you may want to watch it again.

Possible Argument:

  • Claim: Alonzo is a corrupt cop.
  • Reason 1: He is involved with drugs and crime.
  • Reason 2: He has people killed.
  • Reason 3: He searches houses without a warrant.
  • Reason 4: Bad cops don't do these things. (unstated assumption)

More Reading edit

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

If you read this whole 1500+ page book, you'll understand more about grammar than most people understand; you'll probably understand more about grammar than most professors. It's expensive, costing around $100 USD, but you may be able to get it through your local library.

Suggested Readings and other Media edit

This section is broken into two parts:

  1. Books that a person ought to read with explanation and/or details.
  2. A list of books and other media.

If there is an earlier version of the book, you might be able to use that version instead. Sometimes older versions are better than newer versions. If you can't buy a book, you might be able to loan it from another library through something called interlibrary loan. Ask your librarian about interlibrary loan or borrowing books from another library.

All of these have been listed because they are very relevant to the study of argumentation. Of those that should be studied first are listed:

1. Fundamentals of argumentation theory: a handbook of historical backgrounds and contemporary developments

This part of argumentation has been neglected in post-secondary education. However, it will give you a brief introduction to what this topic is all about. I really suggest you read this first. Plus you'll love the cover of the book. You might be able to view that on google images.

2. A Rulebook for Arguments

This short book is somewhat of a quick intro/reference guide. If you've read the previous book, you'll be able to understand what's discussed in this book. The book is very systematic and allows a person to flip from section to section. I'd have to say the author perceived the writer's needs when he created it long ago.

3. Argumentation analysis, evaluation, presentation

This is more of a scholarly book that gives a decently detailed view at argumentation. It includes exercises which a person should do, type out, and practice with.

4. Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Readings

If you have one or more fallacies in your argument, educated people are going to criticize and frown upon your argument. Your grade will probably get knocked down, too. A lot of books discuss fallacies, but sometimes the way they describe them is not very detailed. This book helps give a detailed view toward fallacies.

5. Writing argumentative essays

This is another media that helps a person focus on writing argumentative papers.

6. Ethical Argumentation

A lot of ethical concerns exist when people are going further into the future. This book will allow you to understand ethics and values when stepping into the realm of argumentation.

7. An exploratory study of junior college students' response to teacher feedback in argumentative essays.

It's always neat to get the view of a professor using students as guinea pigs. Although the previous book and other books might help help you scrutinize such a person, this research will help you get a better grasp to what's expected of you as a student.

8. In defense of informal logic

Some people think argumentation is stupid because it has little formal logic and many people argue with emotions and values. This book was created to help defend against views like that.

Another possible book to look into would be Argumentation and Critical Decision Making by Rieke and others.


  • A Rulebook for Arguments (By Weston) (Year 2000)
  • A Systematic Theory of Argumentation: The Pragma-dialectical Approach (By Eemeren and Grootendorst) (Year 2004)
  • Argumentation analysis, evaluation, presentation (By Eemeren, Grootendorst, and Snoeck-Henkemans) (Year 2002)
  • Argumentation, communication, and fallacies: A pragma-dialectical perspective (By Eemeren and Grootendorst) (Year 1992)
  • Ethical Argumentation (By Walton) (Year 2003)
  • Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Readings (By Hansen and Pinto) (Year 1995)
  • Fundamentals of argumentation theory: a handbook of historical backgrounds and contemporary developments (By Eemeren, Grootendorst, and Snoeck)
  • In defense of informal logic (By Levi) (Year 2000)
  • Rhetorical argumentation in biblical texts: Essays from the Lund 2000 conference (By Eriksson and Olbricht) (Year 2002)
  • Teachers' perceptions of coherence in student argumentative essays at the department of Basic English of Middle East Technical University (By Feyza Konyali) (Year 2003)
  • Warranting assent: Case studies in argument evaluation (By Edward Schiappa) (Year 1995)
  • Writing argumentative essays (By Nancy V. Wood) (Year 2001)


  • An exploratory study of junior college students' response to teacher feedback in argumentative essays. (By Dorothy Cheng Suan) (Year 2000)
  • Argumentative essays written by native speakers of Chinese and English: a study in contrastive rhetoric (By Cheryl Ann Eason) (Year 1995)
  • Rhetorical/cognitive strategies evidenced in information and argumentative essays of high school and college undergraduate students: a descriptive study (By Deborah Apy Odell) (Year 1986)
  • The impact of scaffolding via online asynchronous discussions on students' thinking skills in writing argumentative essays (By Yuen Choo Koh) (Year 2004)


  • Critiquing the argumentative essay (By Kathleen Clower) (Year 1991) (VHS tape)
Abstract: Seminar session with students and instructor critiquing student essays for elements of good argumentative writing; thesis statements are examined and strengthened.

References edit