Nearly all college writing assignments will require you to support an opinion or argument with factual evidence. College professors will expect you to possess critical thinking skills and develop informed opinions about important issues in their particular discipline. More often than not, you will be assessed on these two skills by the quality of your written work; reference papers that are supported by your ideas and arguments as well as those of other people.
Most professors will require you to use a combination of published sources (like books and databases) and unpublished sources, such as your own experience or an interview you conducted, as evidence for your opinions and arguments. If you are new to researching sources and developing reference papers (term papers, thesis etc), you can gain an incredible advantage (in both time and effort) and improve your academic performance (higher grades) by learning a few basic researching and writing techniques. Well, both can be summed up in a single word: Networking.
Above all else, learn to navigate your college library. Nearly all college libraries offer training to help students use the library's resources to find published evidence for assignments - get involved in these programs. While it is not the job of any librarian to assist you in developing your work, it is a great benefit to get to know those individuals on a friendly basis - they are valuable and can help you save oodles of time when you are lost researching various topics. Make sure you have mastered the process of planning and researching a paper before you head to your first class. This can be done in part by making it a top priority to spend time getting to know the folks in the library.
Second, and equally important for those students that need to improve their writing skills: get connected on campus. Learn how to be your best resource by building resources and avenues around yourself. Start at your school's writing center, and then seek out students in your class or college that have exceptional writing skills (and befriend them). All schools have clubs, and many clubs are havens for students that are passionate about writing: the school newspaper, English and writing clubs (obviously). Such clubs offer a remarkably efficient platform from which to develop your own writing and research skills. Join one or more of these clubs, and make friends with students that are interested in helping other students improve their writing and research skills. Quite often, what a librarian or resource tutor cannot help you with, a peer will, and a peer can provide a number of techniques and shortcuts that you can adopt and apply to everything you write moving forward.
Remember, our individual experiences, affinities, knowledge, and interests come into play as we read or write about any text. It is particularly useful to have the opportunity for peers to respond to your work-in-progress (you will learn from them). It is also important to build a strong support structure (librarians, tutors), to help you avoid the pitfalls of being stuck. College is about preparing for a productive future, and like professional life, it can be demanding, saving time, developing skills and getting involved, means learning how to manage, communicate and work efficiently (see professionalism for more info on the value of that). Meeting new people, working alongside a group of interested peers, will not only improve your communication skills, expose you to appropriate and well-structured writing and help you build confidence as a student, it will help you make friends and enrich your college experience as well.
Kenneth fuller enjoys helping college students overcome academic challenges. He is senior editor and quality manager for Grademakers.com, a college-level academic editing, writing and tutoring service. You can visit http://www.grademakers.com to learn more about how their services help students improve their academic performance and get the most out of their educational opportunities.