2.3 – Writing for College

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common types of college writing assignments.
  • Recognize the purpose of each type of writing assignment.

Common Writing Assignments

College writing assignments serve a different purpose than the typical writing assignments you completed in high school. In high school, teachers generally focus on teaching you to write in a variety of modes and formats, including personal writing, expository writing, research papers, creative writing, and writing short answers and essays for exams. Over time, these assignments help you build a foundation of writing skills.

In college, many instructors will expect you to already have that foundation.

Your college communications courses will focus on writing for its own sake, helping you make the transition to college-level writing assignments. However, in most other college courses, writing assignments serve a different purpose. In those courses, you may use writing as one tool among many for learning how to think about a particular academic discipline.

Additionally, certain assignments teach you how to meet the expectations for professional writing in a given field. Depending on the class, you might be asked to write a lab report, a case study, a literary analysis, a business plan, or an account of a personal interview. You will need to learn and follow the standard conventions for those types of written products.

Finally, personal and creative writing assignments are less common in college than in high school. College courses emphasize expository writing, writing that explains or informs. Usually expository writing assignments will incorporate outside research, too. Some classes will also require persuasive writing assignments in which you state and support your position on an issue. College instructors will hold you to a higher standard when it comes to supporting your ideas with reasons and evidence.

The following activity describes some of the most common types of college writing assignments. It includes minor, less formal assignments as well as major ones. Which specific assignments you encounter will depend on the courses you take and the learning objectives developed by your instructors.

Common Types of Post Secondary Assignments

Common Types of Post Secondary Assignments (Text version)

Match the assignment types listed below to the numbered descriptions.

Assignment types: Literature review, Personal response paper, Problem solution paper, Critique, Research paper, Research journal, Position paper, Laboratory report, Summary, Case study


  1. Expresses and explains your response to a reading assignment, a provocative quote, or a specific issue; may be very brief (sometimes a page or less) or more in depth (eg: Writing about videos on ineffective management for a business course).
  2. Restates the main points of a longer passage objectively and in your own words (eg: a one-page precis of a research article).
  3. States and defends your position on an issue (often a controversial issue) (eg: an essay agreeing with or disagreeing with capital punishment).
  4. Presents a problem, explains its causes, and proposes and explains a solution (eg: a plan for a crisis communication strategy).
  5. States a thesis about a particular literary work and develops the thesis with evidence from the work and, sometimes, from additional sources (eg: an essay that explains the purpose of a poem).
  6. Sums up available research findings on a particular topic (eg: an examination of all the studies about violent media).
  7. Investigates a particular person, group, or event in depth for the purpose of drawing a larger conclusion from the analysis (eg: a report on the successful treatment of a cat with kidney disease).
  8. Presents a laboratory experiment, including the hypothesis, methods of data collection, results, and conclusions (eg: the results of a study on nutrition in rats)
  9. Records a student’s ideas and findings during the course of a long-term research project (eg: a reflection of the process of research, maintained over time).
  10. Presents a thesis and supports it with original research and/or other researchers’ findings on the topic; can take several different formats depending on the subject area (eg: a deeply researched examination on the success of seat belt laws).

Check your Answers: [1]


Activity source: “Table 1.2 Replacement” by Brenna Clarke Gray is based on the content from “Chapter 1. Post-secondary Reading & Writing” In Writing for Success – 1st Canadian H5P Edition by Tara Harkoff & [author removed], licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Writing at Work

Part of managing your education is communicating well with others at your college. For instance, you might need to e-mail your instructor to request an office appointment or explain why you will need to miss a class. You might need to contact administrators with questions about your tuition or financial aid. Later, you might ask instructors to write recommendations on your behalf.

Treat these documents as professional communications. Address the recipient politely; state your question, problem, or request clearly; and use a formal, respectful tone. Doing so helps you make a positive impression and get a quicker response.

Attribution & References

Except where otherwise noted, this chapter was adapted from “Chapter 1. Introduction to Academic Writing” In Writing for Success – 1st Canadian Edition by Tara Harkoff & [author removed] licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. / Adaptations include student focused language, updates to attributions etc.

  1. 1. Personal response paper, 2. Summary, 3. Position paper, 4. Problem solution paper, 5. Critique, 6. Literature Review, 7. Case study, 8. Lab report, 9. Research journal 10. Research paper


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Communication Essentials for College Copyright © 2022 by Jen Booth, Emily Cramer & Amanda Quibell, Georgian College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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