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Guide to Writing at Stetson University

This guide is designed for students and faculty to use as a resource for what “good college writing” looks like—and how students can achieve it—and how faculty can encourage it.

Speaking and Writing English (when it isn’t your first language)

Academic English, rhetorically, can be considered and treated as a second language comparatively to conversational American English. With a wide-range of conventions that vary for each discipline, even native speakers struggle with writing academically in English. Academic writing in English requires acquiring and using specific conventions and expectations for formality, punctuation, use of pronouns, organizational structures in paragraphs, use of research, and treatment of source material. 

Alongside this concern, students using English as well as their own native language often run into trouble with the grammatical elements of sentences, including verb tenses, plurals, and articles (like a, an, and the). Even for students whose written and spoken English is fairly fluent, grammatical elements like these can be the last things to get firmly under control. 

Suggestions and Reminders

While learning to write in academic American English, a number of issues can arise.  Most of the issues can be resolved with careful, one-on-one attention from professors, other students, and the tutors in the Writing Center. Forming study groups with other students in the same position can also help; students learn a great deal from each other. In the short term, though, here are some reminders to keep in mind when tackling written English assignments:

  •  Develop a reading/editing relationship with someone whose skills you trust, who can help you find and fix editing and grammatical issues (Your professors can help with this, or you can ask a peer in class to help you. Also, remember that Writing Center tutors are trained to help you develop these skills.)
  • Take your writing tasks one at a time. First, work on clarifying your ideas and your essay structure. This is a separate process from checking for grammar mistakes and sentence structures, which should come second in your writing task list. Although this process seems like it would take more time, it can often save you time from writers block and enable you to have your complete focus. This strategy will help you move more efficiently through the process and will result in a better essay at the end.
  • Read slowly. It is easy to let your brain and your eyes “fill in” what you know you’ve been trying to say, even if the words and the sentence structure are not actually saying it. If you read out loud, one sentence at a time, you can focus on structure and correctness more effectively than if you skim over quickly. You can also have someone else read your words to you, while you listen for accuracy, clarity, and structure. 
  • Compile a list of the mistakes you consistently make and use that list to guide you as you edit. Missing articles, verb agreement, comma placement, and word endings such as –ed and –s are common mistakes.
  • Think of your writing as joined with your speaking; this helps to develop flexible speaking habits to help you reinforce strong writing.  
  • Before you start writing and while you’re thinking about writing, you need to consider questions like these because they are key to how a reader understands you on the page. In fact, the answers to these questions will help you figure out your purpose or goal for writing.
    • What point do you want to make?
    • Do you have enough information to be persuasive, or are you relying on your own opinion (or the opinions you’ve inherited from others)?
    • Is your perspective objective enough to stand on its own, or do you need research?
    • Have you thought through the implications of your idea clearly enough to be able to anticipate what others might say?
    • Do you plan to argue against a well-established viewpoint, or are you planning to agree with something?
    • Considering your position, how will you express it?

With this in mind, it is also important to think about the audience of your writing.

  • How will you show your professor that you have done the necessary reading and thought about it carefully?
  • Have you shown in your writing that you have paid attention to what the professor has asked of you?
  • What forms and conventions are expected in the course you are taking?

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email libref@stetson.edu. Call or text 386-747-9028.