Is the Quality of Writing in College Different From High School?

High school and college students write for very different reasons. In high school, students are assigned short assignments that test their writing abilities. These papers don’t require much research and only take a few hours to complete. However, in college, it’s common for essays to take days or weeks to complete and often require the student to conduct research outside of their coursework.

There are several factors at play when it comes to determining whether or not college-level writing is better than high school writing: the subject matter, the purpose of writing, and the process of completing an assignment (i.e., how long it takes and what resources were used).

Let’s start by examining some writing tasks at the high school level. Assignments tend to be short and answer a simple question, much like an essay quiz. Essay questions fall into one of three categories: a claim question asks students to argue a point or opinion using facts from the text as evidence; an argument question requires students to interpret meaning from text and then support their opinions with facts from the text; finally, an analysis essay requires students to identify patterns within the written work by summarizing major ideas or incidents in it. In this way, papers that take hours to complete are typical for high school writing.

College writing is different because it involves research and detailed explanations. The purpose of a college paper does not center around proving a point or identifying the author’s opinion but explaining concepts and ideas in more depth. Rather than answer simple essay questions to prove that they read and understood the material, students must analyze what they’ve read and accurately restate information. Many college writing assignments require students to discuss at least three different topics within one paper. These days, for certain types of essays, it is likely that you will be required to use outside resources including at least three scholarly sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles or books to support your assertions.

In high school, there isn’t much time spent on research because papers are relatively short and answer easy questions about the text. However, many college classes have students conduct research before they write a single word. For example, if a student is writing a paper on the Vietnam War, he or she might need to visit the library to use books and academic journal articles as resources for their paper. In this case, it would be common for students to spend hours in the library doing the research before turning their attention to writing. After all of that time spent looking through books and articles, students may feel less inclined to go back and reread the material; therefore, it’s especially important that college-level writers know how to paraphrase information (i.e., restate facts from sources without using any direct quotes).

High school essays require less thought and effort than college papers because high schoolers don’t always need to conduct research before they write. When a high school student turns in a paper, he or she can be sure that it’s their own work and original ideas. In college, however, students have to be careful about plagiarism because they’ll likely have to reuse information from sources multiple times throughout the essay. Many colleges check for plagiarism by scanning student essays with software that detects when students use direct quotes from books or articles without putting them in quotation marks or when students use paraphrasing but don’t indicate where the ideas come from.

High school writing is different from college writing because of the amount of time spent on an assignment and what types of sources are used for research. Most papers in high school require little research and answer basic questions about the text. College assignments involve more research and detail, require students to explain concepts in-depth and use outside sources such as scholarly books or articles. Now that you know about the differences between high school writing and college writing, it’s time to get started on your assignment!


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