- By Jason Bacot
- Published 11/29/2010
While the term papers you wrote in high school may have given you some preparation for your college term papers, they aren’t the same thing, and you should be prepared to put in more effort than you did in high school. Keep in mind that in high school, you were most likely in a classroom with students of many different ability levels. But once you reach the college classroom, you’re generally in classes with students who have demonstrated a high level of ability. Therefore, you’ll be held to a higher standard than you were in high school. First of all, college instructors will be far less forgiving of basic grammatical mistakes. While a high school teacher may take a bit off a grade for something like subject-verb disagreement, many college-level instructors will dock a letter grade for each instance of such a mistake. Fortunately, most word processing programs can catch big grammar mistakes, but don’t rely on them too much because they can’t catch all errors. There’s no substitute for careful proofreading and editing.
You will also be expected to have a more sophisticated grasp of basic rhetorical techniques, and you are more likely to be called on logical fallacies like straw man arguments, or drawing conclusions from facts that don’t support those conclusions. Mistaking correlation for causality is another fallacy that you may be penalized for. In general, you’ll have to develop literary arguments by identifying interesting concepts you find in your text, by searching out patterns of meaning and learning when and how to raise theoreti
cal questions and make informed speculation. Your instructors at the college level will expect you to be able to use your term papers to establish your own authority on a topic. You are expected to become a constructive critic, able to understand, analyze, and interpret subject matter in order to come to your own conclusions. It is in this way that you add to the general body of knowledge in a small way. Your instructors don’t expect you to have PhD-level knowledge of Charles Dickens in order to write a term paper on Great Expectations, but you are expected to do more than simply parrot information gathered in class. When you write a college-level term paper, assume that your informed opinions count, and that you have a receptive and respectful audience. You should also assume that your audience understands basic reasoning and basic argumentative techniques. You will be expected to draw conclusions based on what you have learned and to express those conclusions clearly. You will also be expected to back up your authority by citing previous works properly. Plagiarism won’t be tolerated, and could not only cause you to fail the class but could also bring on more harsh disciplinary action from your school.
Writing college term papers doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your instructors want you to succeed, and generally give you the guidance you need to do so. It’s fine to ask for help, and there’s nothing wrong with working with tutors if you feel that you are falling behind. Enthusiasm, and the desire to learn will take you far, but there’s no substitute for showing up for class, doing your assignments on time, and applying what you learn.