First-Year Students Academic Writing Expectations

Academic writing is a critical part of academic success. Learning to write at the college level takes patients, constructive feedback, and practice. Academic writing is a process.

Information Literacy  

Information literacy is critical part of the academic writing process. Information literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, organize, properly use, and communicate ideas in a logical manner. Understanding when to use in-text citation and references to add credibility and rigor to your writing is an essential part of learning to write at the college level. Information literacy skills require effort on the part of the writer to research and locate credible scholarly sources of information. It takes more than Googling and using information from a website that pops up from the search engine. You need to evaluate the source. Is the information coming from an acceptable scholarly source, is it a primary source, is the information bias or contains opinions rather than data generated by the author/s using scientific protocols that guide quality academic research standards. Using peer-reviewed journal articles is the gold seal for references in your academic writing, so focus on using these sources in your academic writing. Evaluating the credibility and using sources that come from an acceptable academic warehouse is all part of academic writing process. The university library and specifically the academic databases that contain peer-reviewed journals is an excellent starting point to locate acceptable sources for your academic writing.

Scholarly Sources

Using the universities library academic databases is one of the best ways to find acceptable scholarly sources for college level writing. These sources are coming from a trusted warehouse of academic articles. Get in the habit of using peer-reviewed journal articles. These scholarly articles have been vetted to ensure that they meet the criteria of a credible reliable sources that follow research protocols and acceptable theories that frame the content of the article. Using peer-reviewed journal articles also demonstrates that you are reading credible sources on the content and subject you are writing about. To establish good writing habits at the beginning of your academic journey, I encourage you to learn to use peer-reviewed journal articles. This will help you establish a good foundation for future academic success.

Critical Thinking

Developing critical thinking skills is critical to academic writing. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze the facts to help the writer form a judgement or opinion on the topic. This means that the learner must be self-disciplined to being open-minded and challenge their preconceived assumptions. This can be difficult for adult learners who have already developed opinions, positions, and attitudes towards a topic or problem through their life experiences. Learning to be opened minded can expand the way that you address a problem and allows for new ways to problem solve. Critical thinking allows you to approach a problem looking at all sides and possibilities. Critical thinking is a pillar of creative thinking and problem solving.

Writing Feedback


One of the goals of academic writing is for the learner to demonstrate their knowledge on the topic. This is not about articulating your personal experience but learning to analyze the scholarly literature and finding themes within the academic articles that demonstrate you are critically thinking about the content and learning to apply acceptable theories and concepts to help solve real world problems. Avoid using direct quotes when possible. If you feel you must use a quote, then limit how many you use. All direct quotes must include page numbers like this example (Bond, 2022, p. 45). You only use page numbers with direct quotes in APA Style. If a direct quote is 40 or more words, you must use block quote formatting. Once again, I strongly suggest avoiding using direct quotes as you develop good academic writing habits. Learn to paraphrase during your analysis of the scholarly literature. Using direct quotes distracts from the student’s ability to demonstrate original critical thinking in your analysis of the scholarly literature. Learn to use in-text citations and give credit to the sources that inspired your thinking on a topic. None of us were born with information, so get into the good academic writing habit of giving credit to those who came before us. In academic writing there is no such thing as overciting. You want to give credit to the sources, and this also helps the learner avoid any issues with plagiarism.

Writing Style   

The social sciences use APA Style (7th edition) as the disciplines writing style. This means that students must learn to format papers, in-text citations, and references in proper APA Style format. As first year students, learn the basics of using and formatting in-text citations and reference list. Use the resources that are within the class and shared with you to create good writing habits that will help you improve your academic writing.

Editing, Proofreading, and Time Management

US soldier in front of campus with graduation hat

Time management is an important part of academic success and academic writing. Allowing yourself the time to produce a quality product will reduce your stress and increase your love of learning. If you play beat the clock by not carving out the time needed to produce a quality paper and submit by the assignments due date, you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. Its not easy for adult learners to manage their time when they have real responsibilities to career and family. Going to school is a sacrifice on your personal time but keep your eye on the prize.

Editing helps the writer find the mistakes with English and grammar errors that can easily be made when we are focusing on communicate our thoughts in writing. By leaving yourself enough time, you can then go back with fresh eyes and tweak the paper as needed looking for spelling errors and ensuring that you are citing (in-text citations and reference list) properly and formatting your paper in proper APA Style.

A good editing and proofreading technique require two separate task and goals.  The first is for content, proper English, spelling, third person voice, and grammar. Using the advance Spell-Checker function in Word will help you find little mistakes that you might overlook.

The second edit is to check for APA Style errors in the title/cover page, page numbering, double spacing, Headers, in-text citation formatting, and reference list formatting.

Using these helpful suggestions will help you form good writing habits throughout your academic journey.


About the Author:

Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of human justice at a university and has been teaching in the classroom and online for 22 years.