Six tips to help students gain expertise

Hello from my alma mater writing center (at YVCC)! I just found a copy of Nancy Sommers et al’s pamphlet Making the Most of College Writing: A Guide for Freshmen. Nice. I especially like this section, since so often students can’t imagine how they can become scholars themselves or how they can write with real authority. The second one is my favorite. What a simple but great idea.

Six Tips to Help You Gain Expertise [p. 23]

Cluster your courses. This doesn’t mean that if you are interested in the psychological effects of poverty, you should take only psychology courses. Rather, try to build a program of study that allows you to explore this issue from a variety of angles—in sociology courses, in history courses, in economics courses, in government courses, and in the Core.

Write about a topic or text more than once. While you can’t turn in the same essay twice, you can certainly explore the same text or issue with different questions, thereby building on a foundation of knowledge and ideas. For example, you might encounter Nietzsche in a philosophy course and again in a religion course or a history course. The more opportunities you have to interpret a text, the more comfortable you will become developing your own ideas.

Pair your interests in a particular discipline with the appropriate language. If you are interested in Chinese-American relations, consider studying Mandarin. If you plan to concentrate in medieval history, learn some Latin. And if you are passionate about the poetry of Pablo Neruda, take up Spanish. Reading texts in their original language adds immeasurable depth to your understanding and appreciation of them.

Write research papers. Research papers are excellent opportunities for you to orient yourself in a particular field or topic and to build confidence and experience, so you can tackle future assignments in the same general area.

Take the tutorials in your concentration. The tutorial system is designed to train you in the methods of your discipline, as well as to deepen your knowledge about its central sources and patterns of scholarship. It is an invaluable way to build expertise.

Expertise will not come to you overnight. It will take many courses and many essays before you feel you can call yourself an expert—but it is worth the time and effort.

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2 thoughts on “Six tips to help students gain expertise

  1. Oh, this is very good. Actually I think I’ve seen it before, but am glad to be reminded. Need to remind TA’s that WR 121 is academic writing. There is so much interest in personal and creative writing over academic. By the way, can I see your paper on using the personal in FYC?

    Looks snowy (from the banner) in Yakima. Foggy here.

  2. Hi, Sara.
    Sure, I’ll send you my paper. I wish I’d had more time to polish it, but…
    Oh, that banner’s not Yakima (though it could look like the woods an hour or so away from here). I just liked it. We do have about 3/4 of an inch on the ground now, though, and it was snowing very lightly a little bit ago. JUST enough to make the place mostly white.

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