On University-Level Writing

One of the biggest challenges for many students entering university for the first time is getting used to the writing formats in which most university-level assignments are written. Major essays can be worth up to 50% of a student’s final grade, making them just as important as a formal final exam, often more so. Thus, ensuring that one’s writing is clear, compact and concise is one of the most important factors impacting one’s success in university-level courses.

Academic writing follows certain strict guidelines. Coming from high schools and programs in different cities, countries and cultures, all of us have received different levels of training and instruction regarding our written work. Even though students come from all kinds of backgrounds, all are evaluated using the same grading scheme, and all are expected to write up to the same academic standards. Learning to write to the guidelines of a formal academic essay is thus necessary to remain competitive at the higher levels of academia, and may vary from the writing advice taught in high school.

The first step in learning to write well academically is to ensure that one’s thesis and argument fit squarely within the formatting framework of a formal essay. The thesis statement is by far the most important sentence in any formal paper. Certain academic disciplines have their own guidelines for how this should be structured and where it should be placed, but for the vast majority of university papers, the thesis statement should come at the very end of the introductory paragraph. It should clearly state the focus of your research, the argument your essay is making, and the point you are attempting to prove. In my experience, being blunt is the best way to go. Remember your professor or TA (teaching assistant) has hundreds of papers to mark as quickly as possible! Don’t be afraid to state your thesis outright, whoever is grading your paper will appreciate simplicity.

Academic writing needs to be clear and concise to convey information efficiently.

There is no need to get bogged down with excessive wordiness: you do have a word count to fill, but whoever is marking your paper won’t appreciate having to navigate their way through flowery filler sentences to figure out what you are trying to say. It is also best to avoid conjunctions. Write it is rather than it’s, there is rather than there’s. This lends a formal tone to one’s writing and helps keep the language concrete. For a detailed breakdown of how to complete your essay quickly and efficiently, take a look at our guide:

Should you choose to follow an academic career path, the essays you write in university will set you up to complete funded research papers for peer-reviewed academic journals later in life. Important journals like Nature, Science, and the Journal of American History form the back bone of the academic community, and the up-to-date findings published therein are the go-to source of information for research undertaken in any formal academic capacity. Therefore, no matter what you are researching as a student and arguing as a writer, you need to format it correctly to the standard academic guidelines, every time.

Essay Style Guides

Once you have mastered the structural aspects of writing a formal essay and come up with an argument, you need to format your research with an academically-accepted style of referencing. Keeping track of the sources of information used to write an essay and formatting them correctly shows the reader that you are basing your argument on concrete evidence, and will allow anyone interested in pursuing the subject matter further to trace the steps of you research. Most university-level essays will follow one of two formats, either APA or MLA. Following a formatting style and keeping it consistent throughout your essay shows your professor that you’ve done a thorough job and will help you get the best mark possible.

Essays written in many disciplines such as psychology and behavioral science tend to follow the APA style. Developed by the American Psychological Association, the APA style structures research done in the social sciences, and is favored by many university courses due to its detailed in-text citations. This style makes it easy for readers to know exactly what source the writer is referencing in cases where inspiration has been taken from more than one work by the same author. Learn more about the APA style guide at https://ravendawnphotography.com.

Papers in the humanities and languages tend to use use the MLA format. Developed by the Modern Language Association of America, the MLA style’s simplified in-text citations allow readers to quickly pinpoint a specific fact or statistic to its source. The MLA style makes it easier for writers to combine multiple references into one in-text citation, in cases where the researcher would like to emphasize that a number of different sources corroborate whatever point he or she is making. For details about the MLA style of referencing, take a look at https://ravendawnphotography.com.

The third style of formatting is specific to history papers, which generally follow the Chicago Manual of Style and tend to use footnotes rather than in-text citations. This allows history writers to expand on their sources of information or add the odd additional anecdote or reference note in the footer, without disturbing the flow of their narrative voice in the main text. Find out more at https://ravendawnphotography.com.

Your professor will tell you which format to use for your essay. It is imperative that you stick to the style guide even more important than any particular point of formatting is that your style remains consistent throughout the essay. You can find a detailed description of each style guide on-line. Keep these links handy and save them to your internet browser’s Bookmarks or Favourites. With practice, formatting your essay into a particular style will become second-nature. Nevertheless, it is always best to consult the style-guide when in doubt.

On Connecting With Your Professor

Unlike the regular stream of small homework assignments most high school students are used to, university classes are generally graded on the basis of only a handful of written assignments sometimes this consists of just one major paper and one major final exam. Assignments are often months apart. The gap of time in between formal feedback leaves ample room for first-year students to lose sight of their goals, procrastinate, party and gain the dreaded Frosh 15. In this post I will tell you the best way to stay connected and engaged when I have nothing formally due.

For students who have been used to receiving a constant stream of feedback and regular updates as to where they stand grade-wise, the transition to a more self-lead mode of study isn’t always smooth. It can be daunting walking into a final exam knowing that it counts towards 50% of one’s final grade, or handing in a paper worth the same amount when you don’t have a string of previous smaller assignments to judge how you’re doing or if you’re heading in the right direction. Being prepared and managing your time well is an important place to start. Ultimately, however, making sure to get to know your professor and obtain regular feedback from them is probably the most important piece of advice I can give a first-year student entering university.

Based on my own experience of undergraduate-level university courses, the best method I’ve found to make sure you are still moving forward with the course in between major assignments is to establish and maintain an open line of communication with your professor. Unlike high school classes, many courses in major universities hold their sessions in lecture halls holding as many as 1000 students at a time. For this reason, one-on-one interaction with a professor might appear impossible to a first-year student. The secret is not to wait for opportunities to present themselves, but to go out of your way to consciously create dialogue between you and the person who is marking your work. Almost all professors welcome and encourage regular interactions with their students. In fact, it tends to be the students who go out of their way to make themselves known who stand out in a professor’s mind and get the best grades.

Professors always stick around at the end of lectures to answer questions and address any concerns a student might have. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself and gain additional insight into concepts that are either confusing or of particular interest to you. In addition, most professors have regular scheduled office hours, when they will be in a certain office or class room for an hour or two once a week specifically so students can visit, ask questions, double check assignments and make sure they are up to date and on track to succeed in the course. Remember, professors want their students to do well! But they won’t do the work for you. Your professor will let you know when his or her office hours are during the first lecture, information which will also be provided in the course syllabus for future reference.

Let your professor know what you’re interested in they have the expertise to point you towards resources of additional information, and may surprise you with relevant anecdotes that they don’t have time to share with the entire class. Who knows; with your professor’s guidance, an interesting concept introduced in first year might develop into a personal thesis research project in your final year. Thesis research can start you down a career path once university is over. The point is that unlike in high school, the responsibility in university is now on you the student to go out of your way to connect with your professor and make yourself heard.

Comparing Toronto’s Universities

Choosing which university to attend after high school is a huge decision for every recent graduate. Your choice of university will in many ways decide the next four years of life. Where you live, the types of people you will meet and the job prospects you will have upon graduation are all decided by the university you choose to attend. Therefore, it’s important to assess the strengths and weaknesses of schools and make an informed choice. It can be stressful, but we’re here to help! Thinking of studying in Toronto? Here is a breakdown of Toronto’s three universities: the University of Toronto, Ryerson, and York University.

Probably the city’s most renowned university, U of T is also its oldest. If you are looking for a school with history and an established reputation for academic excellence, this might be the place for you. Centrally located in the city’s downtown core, students have ready access to everything the city has to offer. Such a central location might be too distracting for some students to stay focused, however, and the school’s massive lecture halls and class sizes can be daunting. With 55 000 undergraduate students and 14 000 graduate students calling U of T home last year, U of T is Toronto’s largest university. The school’s reputation for excellence has a price tag to suit undergraduate tuition for the 2009-2010 year was as high as $9 374 for students pursuing a B.A.Sc. About an hour away from downtown, the school’s Scarborough campus provides a more affordable option. For more information, visit http://www.utoronto.ca.

Located to the city’s North, York University is a good option for students seeking to avoid the expense and distractions of life in downtown Toronto, but still attend a school with an established history of academic achievement. York University prides itself on its flexible degree programs, encouraging interdisciplinary learning between disparate faculties.York is the place to go for students wishing to explore a variety of interests, looking to add diversity to their undergraduate experience, or for those who aren’t set on a clear career path and wishing to keep their options open. York is slightly more affordable than some other Canadian universities tuition for a full undergraduate course load is around $5000-$6000 by faculty. For French-Canadian students and anyone wishing to study the French language, York has a small second campus located in mid-town Toronto. Glendon College, or le College Universitaire Glendon, is the only post-secondary school in Canada outside of Quebec to offer undergraduate-level courses in french. It is one of the best schools in Canada for students wishing to pursue a career in translation. Find out more at www.yorku.ca and www.glendon.yorku.ca.

Toronto’s newest university is Ryerson, which was granted full university status in 1993. Ryerson is first in Ontario in terms of research growth, has a career-driven style of education, and makes a good second option for students wishing to live and study downtown. Being a newer university, Ryerson is less steeped in tradition for students who might find the historical presence of the more established universities creatively stifling. Ryerson is a blossoming centre of academic research with a future of dynamic possibilities, and has strong schools of social work and design. Find out more at http://www.ryerson.ca. For many, heading off to university is the first opportunity to move away from the neighbourhoods they have known since childhood and move on to experience a new side of life in a different city, province or country. Make the right choice! Toronto is a vibrant city with a diversity of interests to suit every taste. If music, theatre or nightlife is your scene, Toronto is a great metropolitan city to study and live in. Enrolling at York, Ryerson or U of T is a great way to expand your horizons and make important contacts that will shape your academic life and get you started on an exciting career path.

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