Types of College Writing

Papers

Professors will require you to write papers that have different purposes, depending on the discipline and the subject of the paper. They may require expository writing, in which you provide information or explain an idea. They may also require persuasive writing or argumentation, in which you persuade readers to take your point of view on a certain topic. These types of writing could require research to support your points, although doing outside research may not be necessary. In some circumstances you may be asked to demonstrate creative writing, in which you produce an original piece of art such as a poem, a play, or a short story. Finally, you may be asked to record and comment upon your own experiences in expressive, autobiographical, or personal writing, or to explore ideas and experiences in reflective writing. Keep in mind that there may be some overlapping between different types of writing. For example, you may use expository writing within a persuasive paper, or you may use personal writing within a reflective essay.

Lab reports

If you are taking a science course that has a laboratory component, you may be required to describe the experiments you conduct in laboratory reports. Your professor may have a specific format that he/she would like you to use in your lab report, but if not, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association describes a format that is generally acceptable. This format includes a title page, an abstract (a short summary of the report), an introduction, a section describing materials and methods, your data and results, a discussion or conclusion based on your results, and a list of works cited (if necessary). If you have any questions about how to format your lab report, be sure to ask your professor.

Journals

Some professors may require you to turn in journal entries in which you comment upon readings or lectures, reflect on class discussion, or relate issues discussed in class to your own experiences. Make sure that you understand what your professors are looking for in each journal assignment, and don’t forget that, although this may seem like a less formal writing assignment, you still need to pay attention to spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and neatness (unless your professor has indicated otherwise).

Portfolios

Some professors may require that you submit a portfolio of your writing (a collection of pieces you have written) for a grade in a certain course. If you have a choice as to what to include in your portfolio, try to include papers that demonstrate a range regarding both topics covered and the style of writing used. Also, if your professor allows you the opportunity to edit papers again after they have been graded but before you submit them in a portfolio, take advantage of this and make your papers as clean and error-free as possible. Finally, it is often advantageous to include a cover letter or a reflective essay with your papers to give the professor your own perception of the writing included.