But college papers aren’t written like letters; they’re written like articles for a hypothetical group of readers that you don’t actually know much about.
There’s a fundamental mismatch between the real-life audience and the form your writing takes. It helps to remember the key tenet of the university model: you’re a junior scholar joining the academic community.
Don’t be scared whenever you are given an assignment.
Professors know what it was like to be in college and write all kinds of papers.
How does it fit into the learning goals of the course?
Why is this question/topic/problem so important to my professor that he is willing to spend evenings and weekends reading and commenting on several dozen novice papers on it? Some students perceive more open-ended assignments as evidence of a lazy, uncaring, or even incompetent instructor. Professors certainly vary in the quantity and specificity of the guidelines and suggestions they distribute with each writing assignment.
Here are some tips: If a professor provides a grading rubric with an assignment prompt, thank your lucky stars (and your professor).
If the professor took the trouble to prepare and distribute it, you can be sure that he or she will use it to grade your paper.
However, except for rare egregious situations, you would do well to assume the best of your instructor and to appreciate the diversity of learning opportunities you have access to in college.
Like one first-year student told Keith Hjortshoj, “I think that every course, every assignment, is a different little puzzle I have to solve. When do I need to do it, and how long will it take? ” The transparency that you get from some professors—along with guides like this one—will be a big help to you in situations where you have to be scrappier and more pro-active, piecing together the clues you get from your professors, the readings, and other course documents.