College Prep Composition Skills

A College Teacher’s Wish List (Or, Composition Skills to Have Before Enrolling in College)

Know the names of punctuation marks.

Know what the parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.) and parts of a sentence (predicate, clause, etc.) are, and be able to identify them in a sentence.

Know the standard format for a formal business letter.

Know the standard format for a course paper (page numbers, how to present quotations, how to do page breaks, etc.).

Know SOME documentation form WELL (MLA, APA, or Chicago/Turabian) and know how to acknowledge other people’s ideas as you incorporate them with your own.

Know the difference between a topic sentence (for a paragraph) and a thesis sentence (for an essay) AND between a topic (the subject of an essay; what it’s about) and a thesis (the opinion or point of view to be argued in an essay).

Know how to use a dictionary — and know the multiple uses of a dictionary.

Proofread AND neatly correct any errors in your final copy — and do it AFTER you spellcheck, too.

Create titles for your essays (not “English 107 Paper”) that reflect the content.

Develop introduction skills to avoid the “I am going to write about….” type of language.  Such phrasing does not raise the reader’s hope for an interesting paper.

Use 1st-person plural instead of 2nd person (“we can see…” instead of “you can see…”).  Use 3rd-person plural instead of 3rd-person singular (“students like to show off their abilities” instead of “a student likes to show off his/her abilities”).

Remember that a semicolon, when joining sentences, is the same as a comma-plus-and.  (“I ran down the street; I stumbled into the store” = “I ran down the street, and I stumbled into the store.”)

Be able to identify and fix the “Big Ten” grammar and usage problems:

  • run-on (or fused) sentences
  • fragments
  • parallel sentence and phrase construction
  • subject/verb agreement
  • noun/pronoun agreement
  • their/they’re/there AND its/it’s
  • possessive apostrophes
  • commas after introductory phrases and clauses in complex sentences
  • commas with compound sentences
  • rules for using hyphens, especially in creating adjectives

Know your way around a library well enough to do basic research.

Don’t depend on encyclopedias for sources any more.

Know how to evaluate web sites for reliability and authority.