What is College-Level Writing?

book Part of the difficulty preparing high school students for college-level writing is that there is not an agreed upon definition of what constitutes college-level writing. As Merrill Davies expresses in his essay "Whistling in the Dark" in the 2007 NCTE book What is College-Level Writing , many high school teachers feel as if they don't know the standard they are attempting to prepare their students to reach. As Davies mentions, and all the participants in the July 2008 and 2009 Open Institutes on College Readiness agreed, more communication between high school teachers and college/university professors helps a lot. Discussing what we do in our different contexts helps high school teachers see what students are really asked to do in college; likewise, seeing what high school students are doing in their classes helps college teachers see what kinds of experiences and skills students are arriving with when they get into their class. This page will provide a number of helpful perspectives on college-level writing. The NCTE book featured here is excellent, and would be a good text for a book study group at your campus.

Writing in College: Some Crucial Differences between high school and college writing
by Joseph Williams and Lawrence McEnerney
--written for entering students at the University of Chicago, it summarizes key features of writing in college.

What is Academic Writing?
by L. Lennie Irvin
Chapter in Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1.

What is Academic Writing? What are It's Standards?
from Chris Thaiss and Terry Myers Zawacki's Engaged Writers & Dynamic Disciplines (2006), a study of academic writing across disciplines conducted at George Mason University.

How College Students Develop as Writers
from Rehearsing New Roles by Lee Ann Carroll. This page reports key findings from her study of how students' writing develops over the course of their college career.

Council of Writing Program Administrators Outcome Statements for First-Year Composition
This statement describes the common knowledge, skills, and attitudes sought by first-year composition programs in American postsecondary education.


 Site created by L. Lennie Irvin, July 2008 | Page last updated on October 19, 2010 | Sponsored by the San Antonio Writing Project

"Having taught high school English for thirty-one years, the one thing that I have learned is that there is no guarantee that students who do well in high school composition will automatically do well in college composition. ...There is an old expression about "whistling in the dark" which refers to walking along and pretending to be confident in the dark when in fact we are scared to death. That is the way I have often felt about trying to prepare students for college. I tell them what I think they should know and be able to do, but in reality I know that the expectations vary greatly between colleges and even among professors in the same college."
~Merrill J. Davies "Whistling in the Dark" What is College Level Writing?