Making the Most of College Writing
By Emily O’Brien, Jane Rosenzweig, and Nancy Sommers of the Expository Writing Program, Harvard College
Edited for Duquesne University by Greg Barnhisel

This pamphlet was written for the use of first-year students at Harvard. However, its insights hold true for first-year college students at universities everywhere.


The things that I understand, that I remember, that make a difference to me are the things that I have written about.

When the students of the Harvard class of 2001 were asked, as part of an intensive, longitudinal study, to reflect on why college writing was important to them, most of them reported that it helped them make sense of the material in their classes. As one biology major put it, “I don’t feel like I can understand what’s going on in lab unless I do a lab report.” Another student explained it this way: “When you are not writing papers in a course, you take more of a tourist’s view of a subject because you don’t have to think in depth about any of the material.” This idea—that writing is the way that you do much of your learning in college—is voiced by faculty members as well. As Lizabeth Cohen, Professor of History, comments, “Writing is the best way to figure out what you think. In my own work, I always learn what I think—or what I haven’t thought through sufficiently—when I sit down to write a paper, essay, or book chapter. It is with that in mind that I give students writing assignments: to help them figure out their views on a topic.” The best way to become a strong writer is to practice, and you will have plenty of opportunities to do so here at Duquesne. In the meantime, we

hope you will find this guide a useful introduction to what lies ahead. When asked what advice she would share with future students, one of the students in this study said this: “See that there is a greater purpose to writing than completing an assignment. Try to get something and give something when...