How to Use this OER Handbook

A Quick Guide for Students

Darren Meritz and Melissa Elston

Your instructor has provided you with this resource free, in lieu of a traditional composition handbook. It contains both lessons and reference materials that you can use for college-level writing tasks.

To get the most out of this virtual text, you should use it in two ways. First, if you are uncertain about how to get started, organize your thoughts, or approach a paper, you can use the lessons to develop or improve your own writing process. Secondly, if you have questions about what we commonly refer to in writing studies as “second order concerns”  — sentence-level issues with style, punctuation, grammar or other proofreading matters  — this book can serve as a quick reference to answer them.

The handbook is organized into seven sections:

  • Part 1: Introduction to College Writing — This section will prepare you to engage more deeply with course materials and writing assignments as a college student. It provides information on typical issues and scenarios encountered in college courses, and offers some helpful tips so that you can navigate them well.
  • Part 2: Rhetoric, Audience and Purpose — As you encounter writing assignments at the college level, you will need to make a series of decisions, which are dependent upon the audience for your work, and the purpose of the assignment that you have been given.  This section will give you the tools to make confident choices as you write.
  • Part 3: Critical Thinking and Argument — In many college writing assignments, you are asked to “argue” a position. But what does this term mean? Part 3 of this handbook will give you a deeper understanding of the task we call argumentation, which is central to college-level writing and scholarship.
  • Part 4: The Writing Process: Development and Drafting — This component of the text presents students with strategies for developing an idea, creating a thesis, and organizing an essay that has all the requisite elements expected in a university setting.
  • Part 5: Research and Working with Sources — This section examines the best, most appropriate use of sourcing in an academic context. Chapters examine what makes a source effective in an academic context and how students should present those sources to an audience in a professional, academically honest way.
  • Part 6: Grammar and Punctuation — In this reference section, we cover common questions and mistakes students may have when working with sentence level issues, including sentence structure, the use of commas and periods, and appropriate use of parts of speech.
  • Part 7: Format — In this reference section, you’ll find instructions and materials to make sure your essay is appropriately sourced and stylized, whether you are writing in MLA, APA, or some other style.

Parts 1-5 will help you organize and refine your writing process. It is best to read them before beginning a writing project. Meanwhile, Parts 6 and 7 are designed as a quick reference you can use while you are in the process of writing.

We hope you will find this handbook useful. And — as we recommend in the introduction — always be sure to consult your instructor if you have specific questions about a writing assignment prompt!

Ready to get started? Click the right arrow key by “Next: College Success Skills” below to begin reading!



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From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Darren Meritz and Melissa Elston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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