Understand the special demands of specific writing situations, including the following:
- Writing in-class essays
- Writing with others in a group project
- Writing in an online class
Everything about university writing so far in this chapter applies in most university writing assignments. Some particular situations, however, deserve special attention. These include writing in-class essays, group writing projects, and writing in an online course.
Writing In-Class Essays
You might well think the whole writing process goes out the window when you have to write an in-class essay. After all, you don’t have much time to spend on the essay. You certainly don’t have time for an extensive revision of a complete draft. You also don’t have the opportunity to seek feedback at any stage along the way. Nonetheless, the best writers of in-class essays bring as much of the writing process as they can into an essay exam situation. Follow these guidelines:
- Prepare for writing in class by making writing a regular part of your study routine. Students who write down their responses to readings throughout a term have a huge advantage over students who think they can study by just reading the material closely. Writing is a way to build better writing, as well as a great way to study and think about the course material. Don’t wait until the exam period to start writing about things you have been studying throughout the term.
- Read the exam prompt or assignment very carefully before you begin to respond. Note keywords in the exam prompt. For example, if the exam assignment asks for an argument, be sure to structure your essay as an argument. Also look for ways the instructor has limited the scope of your response. Focus on what is highlighted in the exam question itself. See Chapter 6 “Preparing for and Taking Tests” for more tips for exam writing.
- Jot notes and sketch out a list of key points you want to cover before you jump into writing. If you have time, you might even draft an opening paragraph on a piece of scratch paper before committing yourself to a particular response. Too often, students begin writing before they have thought about the whole task before them. When that happens, you might find that you can’t develop your ideas as fully or as coherently as you need to. Students who take the time to plan actually write longer in-class essays than those who begin writing their answers right after they have read the assignment. Take as much as a fourth of the total exam period to plan.
- Use a consistent approach for in-class exams. Students who begin in-class exams with a plan that they have used successfully in the past are better able to control the pressure of the in-class exam. Students who feel they need to discover a new approach for each exam are far more likely to panic and freeze.
- Keep track of the time. Some instructors signal the passing of time during the exam period, but do not count on that help. While you shouldn’t compulsively check the time every minute or two, look at your watch now and then.
- Save a few minutes at the end of the session for quick review of what you’ve written and for making small changes you note as necessary.
A special issue in in-class exams concerns handwriting. Some instructors now allow students to write in-class exams on laptops, but the old-fashioned blue book is still the standard in many classes. For students used to writing on a keyboard, this can be a problem. Be sure you don’t let poor handwriting hurt you. Your instructor will have many exams to read. Be courteous. Write as clearly as you can.
Group Writing Projects
University instructors sometimes assign group writing projects. The terms of these assignments vary greatly. Sometimes the instructor specifies roles for each member of the group, but often it’s part of the group’s tasks to define everyone’s role. Follow these guidelines:
- Get off to an early start and meet regularly through the process.
- Sort out your roles as soon as you can. You might divide the work in sections and then meet to pull those sections together. But you might also think more in terms of the specific strengths and interests each of you bring to the project. For example, if one group member is an experienced researcher, that person might gather and annotate materials for the assignment. You might also assign tasks that relate to the stages of the writing process. For example, one person for one meeting might construct a series of questions or a list of points to be addressed, to start a discussion about possible directions for the first draft. Another student might take a first pass at shaping the group’s ideas in a rough draft. And so on. Remember that whatever you do, you cannot likely keep each person’s work separate from the work of others. There will be and probably should be significant overlap if you are to eventually pull together a successful project.
- Be a good citizen. This is the most important point of all. If you are assigned a group project, you should want to be an active part of the group’s work. Never try to ride on the skills of others or let others do more than their fair share. Don’t let any lack of confidence you may feel as a writer keep you from doing your share. One of the great things about a group project is that you can learn from others. Another great thing is that you will learn more about your own strengths that others value.
- Complete a draft early so that you can collectively review, revise, and finally edit together.
- See the section on group presentations in Chapter 7 “Interacting with Instructors and Classes”, Section 7.4 “Public Speaking and Class Presentations” for additional tips.
Writing in Online Courses
Online instruction is becoming more and more common. All the principles discussed in this chapter apply also in online writing—and many aspects are even more important in an online course. In most online courses, almost everything depends on written communication. Discussion is generally written rather than spoken. Questions and clarifications take shape in writing. Feedback on assignments is given in writing. To succeed in online writing, apply the same writing process as fully and thoughtfully as with an essay or paper for any course.
- Even in in-class essays, using an abbreviated writing process approach helps produce more successful writing.
- Group writing projects require careful coordination of roles and cooperative stages but can greatly help students learn how to improve their writing.
- Writing for an online course puts your writing skills to the ultimate test, when almost everything your instructor knows about your learning must be demonstrated through your writing.
List three ways in which a process approach can help you write an in-class essay.
Describe what you see as a strength you could bring to a group writing project.
Explain ways in which writing in an online course emphasizes the social dimension of writing.