Writing

Student writing an assignment in pencil

This section will help you understand the different types of writing and how you can improve your writing skills.

Avoiding Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

The University of Minnesota defines plagiarism as "representing the words, creative work, or ideas of another person as one's own without providing proper documentation of source. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • copying information word for word from a source without using quotations marks and giving proper acknowledgement by way of footnote, endnote, or in-text citation.
  • representing the words, ideas, or data of another person as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, in-text citation, or footnote.
  • producing, without proper attribution, any form of work originated by another person such as a musical phrase, a proof, a speech, an image, experimental data, laboratory report, graphic design, or computer code.
  • paraphrasing, without sufficient acknowledgement, ideas taken from another person that the reader might reasonably mistake as the author's.
  • borrowing various words, ideas, phrases, or data from original sources and blending them with one's own without acknowledging the sources."

Reference: University of Minnesota Student Conduct Code, p. 2.

Plagiarism Quiz 

Decide if the below situations are examples of plagiarism or not.

 

 

How to Quote, Paraphrase, and Summarize

Quote Paraphrase Summarize

Must cite original source

Must cite original source Must cite original source

Use exact words from the original source, with quotation marks surrounding them

Change the original words into your own words (also change the sentence structure) Change the original words into your own words (also change the sentence structure)
Exact same words as original 

May be shorter than, longer than, or about the same length as the original

Shorter than the original

Tips on integrating quotations

Phrases for introducing and explaining quotations

Paraphrasing examples (in APA and MLA format) Summarizing examples (in APA and MLA format)

 

Citation Resources

What are citations? 

This UMN Library tutorial explains how to cite books, articles, websites, and other sources both in the text of a paper and in the reference list at the end of a paper.

Citation Guides and Style Manuals

The UMN Libraries have many resources on using different styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) in your citations and other information for using citations correctly in your writing. 

Types of Writing

As a college student, you will need to produce many different types of writing, including essays, lab reports, and emails.

An annotated bibliography is a collection of sources (books, articles, etc.) in which you write a paragraph or two describing and evaluating each source. 

An argument (or persuasive) paper or essay requires you to take a stance on an issue, and present arguments to support your opinion. 

A book report is a summary of a book and is usually more descriptive and objective. 

A book review is more critical, in which you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Here are some guidelines to writing a variety of business class assignments:

All guidelines above are from Colorado State University's Writing Studio.

There are several parts to include in a polite email:

Subject:

Always include a subject that summarizes the topic of the email.  

  • Do not leave the subject empty.  
  • Do not use a general subject like “hello,” “help!” or your name (they can see your name in the sender information).
  • Do not reply to an old email that has a subject about a completely different topic to start a message about a new topic.

Greeting:

The greeting you use shows how formal or informal your email is.

  • More formal greetings:  
    Dear,
    Good morning,
    Good afternoon,
    Good evening,
  • Less formal greetings:  
    Hi,
    Hey,
  • No greeting:  
    If you are emailing someone that you are in frequent contact with, or if you are responding to an email conversation that has been going back and forth for a few messages, you might not need to use any greeting because you are continuing an ongoing conversation.

How to address instructors:  

  • If your instructor has asked that you use his/her first name, then use their first name in email greetings (Dear Sara, Hi John,).
  • If you are not sure what to call your instructor, use the instructor’s title + family name (Dear Dr. Johnson, Hi Professor Smith, Dear Ms. Jones, Hi Mr. Anderson).
  • It is not correct to use their title + first name (Dear Professor Sara, Hi Dr. John).

Body:

  • Identify who you are if necessary. 
    “I’m a student in section 3 of your Physics 1301 class.”
  • Explain the reason you are writing early in the email.
    “I wanted to let you know I won’t be in class tomorrow."
    "I lost the handout from yesterday.”
  • Be polite and clear about what you want the recipient to do.
    “Please let me know if I can reschedule the quiz."
    "Could you send me a copy of the handout?”
  • Each paragraph should have its own main idea.
  • Paragraphs can be shorter, just one or two sentences.
  • Paragraphs do not need to be indented.

Closing:  

The closing signals that your email is finished.

  • More formal closings:
    Thank you in advance,
    Thank you very much,
    Thank you,

    Regards,
    Sincerely,  
  • Less formal closings:
    Thanks a lot,
    Thanks,
    Best,
  • No closing:
    In less formal situations you can just sign your name with no closing.

Signature:  

You should always type your name at the end of an email, especially if your email account doesn’t show your English name. Don’t make the recipient look up your email address to find your name. In professional settings, people often use more detailed electronic signatures that might include their:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Company/Department/Program
  • Other contact information (address, phone number, etc.)

Writing an essay for an exam is different than writing an essay as a homework assignment because you have a much more limited time frame to organize and write your essay.  

An exploratory paper or essay requires you to explore a problem and possibly some potential solutions to the problem. Purdue's Online Writing Lab has a couple resources to help:

Lab reports typically include:

  1. an Introduction (which may include a Prediction),
  2. a Methodology or Procedure section,
  3. a Results section (which may be called Data and Analysis),
  4. a Discussion or Conclusion section. 

The sections may vary depending on your discipline or class, so check with your instructor to confirm which sections are required in your lab reports. 

You might also need to write an abstract (a one-paragraph summary) of your experiment. Colorado State University's Writing Studio explains different types of abstracts and how to write them.

For discipline-specific advice on writing lab reports, visit:

In technical science writing we use a lot of common phrases. Browse this list of phrases often used in engineering writing (which could also be useful in other science writing).

Research papers are common assignments in many different departments on campus. In a research paper, you use several sources to investigate a topic. You evaluate and interpret this information, and add your own insights and perspectives on the topic.

In some classes, your instructor might ask you to respond to an essay, article, poem, story, book, event, film, or other prompt. 

In the United States, resumes are more common for undergraduate students and people with bachelor's degrees. A CV (curriculum vitae) is more common when applying for jobs in academia (where the applicant has a graduate degree). However, this can vary depending on the field. Advisors in your department and in Career Services can help guide you on the best format to use depending on your experience and field.

Colorado State University's Writing Studio has resources on a variety of science writing assignments:

Should you use a table or graph in your science writing?  This website from NC State University helps you decide how to present data.

In technical science writing we use a lot of common phrases. Browse this list of phrases frequently used in engineering writing (which could also be useful in other science writing).

To write a strong paper, you need a strong thesis statement. This is the main point of your entire paper. You can find advice for writing thesis statements at: 

Need help thinking of a good title for your paper? The UMN Center for Writing has advice on writing effective titles.

Assignment Expectations

First, read the assignment and the writing prompt carefully to make sure you fully understand it. The Online Writing Lab has step-by-step advice for help Understanding Writing Assignments

Secondly, ask questions! If something about the assignment is unclear, ask your instructor in class, in an email, or during office hours. Instructors want you to succeed so they will help make sure you understand the assignment.

Also, ask your instructor if there is a grading rubric for the assignment. A rubric is usually a table or chart that explains all of the categories you will be graded on, and what you need to do to get points in each category. Use the rubric as a checklist to make sure you are including everything in the assignment that the instructor will be looking for.

Not sure what the assignment is asking you to do? Here are common words used in writing prompts and what they mean.

Organization

Different languages have different standards for organizing ideas in writing. English writing tends to be very direct. The introduction has a clearly stated thesis or main idea and an overview for how you will support the thesis or main idea. The body of the paper supports the thesis. Each paragraph usually has one main idea, with supporting sentences to further explain or clarify that main idea. The conclusion summarizes the main points and restates the thesis in other words.

Compared to some cultures, this writing style can seem repetitive and insulting to the reader, since all ideas are directly stated rather than letting the reader make his or her own conclusions. However, this is the general organizational style expected in most American writing assignments.

Reference: Kaplan, R.B. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in inter-cultural education. Language Learning, 16 (1-2), pages 1-20.

Organizing Your Writing

  • This organization worksheet from the Center for Writing can help you organize your thesis and supporting ideas as you plan a paper or essay.
  • This tip sheet on paper cohesion and flow from the Center for Writing can help you organize your ideas and sentences into a clear and logical order.
  • Using sentence transitions can also help you better organize your ideas in writing.

Writing Resources

  • Schedule a consultation with the Center for Writing's Student Writing Support.
  • Tutorials, guides, and workshops: The UMN Libraries resources can help you find and cite research.
  • Resources for Multilingual Writers: The Center for Writing has a collection of useful websites, including good online dictionaries, 
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource for writing with tips and information on organization and outlines, grammar, citations, different types of writing assignments, and more.
  • This collection of writing videos includes topics such as how to write a summary, sentence fragments, paragraph structure, combining sentences, and different types of paragraphs and essays.
  • The Academic Phrasebank includes many phrases commonly used in academic writing. The phrases are organized by how they're used, so you can find phrases for introducing a topic, giving an overview of how your paper is organized, referring to other research, describing research methods, reporting research results, transitioning from one section to another, writing conclusions, and much more. 
  • Voices of Minnesota's Multilingual Writers: In these short videos, international students at the University of Minnesota describe how they learned to write American academic English, and writing experts' give advice for adjusting to American academic writing expectations.