Writing Prompts for College Students

Writing Prompts for College Students

We utilize this article to guide you on how to write an excellent prompt. At Custom University Papers, we recognize the significance of equipping our esteemed clients, primarily college students, with the much-needed writing skills to excel in their forthcoming class assignments. Against this backdrop, please read on as we unravel every aspect of writing prompts for college students. We define writing prompts, identify and discuss various types of essay prompts, provide examples of writing prompts, and describe how you can write an outstanding writing prompt.



What Are Writing Prompts?

Simply put, the term “prompt” constitutes giving a cue or signal to a person with the sole purpose of directing them to focus on specific objectives, goals, topics, or tasks. A prompt comes in varying dimensions, primarily a text’s passage, an image, and a word. In this respect, writing prompts are activities, assignments, or assessments that require a college student to read or view a given passage or image and write about its topic (s) or theme (s) as directed. This is because the writing prompt offers a starting point, a clue, or an idea on various forms of writing, such as an original essay, poem, report, story or narrative, and journal entry.

Your professor is more likely to use writing prompts in standardized tests. However, some lecturers in English may ask you to devise your own writing prompt. Writing prompts are more specific than most class assignments you will encounter in your English course. As mentioned, essay prompts ask college students to write about specific topics. A writing prompt solicits responses from learners by tasking them to write in an essay format. Equally important, writing prompts to test the student’s writing, research, analytical, and reasoning skills. In addition, an essay prompt assesses the learner’s ability to provide a well-thought point of view. These attributes explain why an essay prompt’s instructions include details about the topic and writing style.

Basic Components & Characteristics of Writing Prompt

All writing prompts have two major ingredients:

  1. The prompt itself – An image, a passage of a book/text, word, or phrase.
  2. Directions on what to do with the prompt – Instructions/requirements

Apart from these two elements, a writing prompt possesses two distinct features. First, essay prompts touch on the student’s everyday encounters. In other words, a writing prompt revolves around issues or topics accessible to the learners because they experience them in various social settings: schools, churches, museums, parks, grocery stores, restaurants, or supermarkets/hypermarkets.

The second attribute of virtually all essay prompts is allowing college students to write their answers in multiple ways. For example, it is not uncommon for your professor to ask you to complete the following prompt or similar tasks:

  • In this assignment, I would like each of you to produce a perfectly written and well-formatted personal narrative or story that communicates who you are, your interests and hobbies, and your plans for the future. The primary purpose of this prompt is for every student to introduce themselves in a way that allows us to know you better. Remember that your target audience is classmates and me (the instructor). Your response should include details that paint a clear picture of yourself. Present your ideas and thoughts effectively using Standard English. Support arguments in your essay with reasoning and real-life examples.

Notably, this essay prompt has two parts: an open-ended personal narrative and writing details. In other words, it allows students to write about themselves in ways that show, not tell, who they are.

You can now see from this example (narrative/story) that writing prompts assume wide-ranging forms: original essay, poem, passage, journal entry, or report.

Types/Kinds of Writing Prompts

As mentioned previously, writing prompt assignments take and manifest in varying forms. Still, we have different types of essay prompts:

  • Descriptive Writing Prompts
  • Narrative Prompts
  • Research Writing Prompts
  • Informative or Expository Prompts
  • Persuasive Writing Prompts
  • Opinion Prompts
  • Narrative Prompts

Descriptive Prompts

This writing prompt will ask you to write on a specific topic by including details or information that allows your reader (target audience) to create a clear/vivid picture or image of the theme at hand. As the name suggests, a descriptive essay prompt illustrates or pictorially expresses a topic. Descriptive writing prompts go a long way to solicit your reader’s senses.

For example, a descriptive prompt should be appealing to the five senses as follows because descriptive writing appeals to your readers’ feelings and emotions:

  • Taste – The other children looked on as the juicy mango melted slowly in the little girl’s mouth. The undistracted girl could not stop motley yellow juice from dripping down her cheeks.
  • Hearing – His voice was high, distressing, and squeaky.
  • Sight – While the movie theatre was gloomy, the appearance of a gigantic and agile amazon illuminated the mood of the attendees.
  • Smell – While the pancake pizza looked tantalizing from a distance, she discovered it was already stinky.
  • Touch – Her hairy dog’s fur felt fluffy, just like our fleece blankets. 

Research Prompts

When your professor asks you to write a research writing prompt, you should focus on locating relevant information on the assigned topic from various sources: books or class texts, peer-reviewed articles, and digital resources. Other online sources include social media platforms, including YouTube and LinkedIn.

Research essay prompts involve in-depth research, note-taking, professional academic writing, in-text citing, and works cited page or a reference list.

Expository Writing Prompts

An exploratory writing prompt is informative in which college students are asked to present a chosen topic clearly and provide supporting facts, examples, and related details. The principal purpose of expository writing is to inform the audience.

Custom University Papers will help you with your informative prompt by ensuring that the essay defines the topic, explains it, and provides examples that tell about it.

Example of an Informative/Expository Prompt

  • While summer is a favorite season for most people in the United States and beyond, write an informative essay that describes your favorite season. If it is winter, autumn, spring, or summer, discuss what makes it special or unique to you.

Narrative Prompts

Our team of expert college essay prompts provided an example of a narrative prompt in the previous paragraphs when we discussed a personal narrative. Definition-wise, narrative writing asks college students to write about real (non-fictitious/non-fiction) or imagines (factious/fiction) experiences.

Therefore, a narrative prompt can be in the following forms;

  • Dialogue,
  • Logical sequencing, and
  • Sensory details

Opinion Writing Prompt

As the name suggests, opinion essay prompts ask students to write about or present their opinions or perspectives on a specific theme or topic. In other words, opinion writing involves providing the writer’s point of view regarding an issue, applying appropriate reasoning skills, and backing the arguments with relevant facts.

As a student pursuing a course in English, you are more likely to be asked to talk about (in written Standard English) your position on controversial/sensitive and debatable topics, such as death penalty/capital punishment, physician-assisted suicide (PAS), abortion, gun violence, and firearm legislation. You must organize your information sensibly and cite credible sources to reinforce the details.

Persuasive Prompts

In persuasive writing, students are expected to appeal to the reader (target audience) to concur or agree with their ideas, point of view, or opinion. In essence, a persuasive prompt involves trying to convince someone or people interested in a topic to accept and nod to your position.


  • To reduce expenses due to the disruptive coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, your financial department manager has written to the company board of directors to cancel all budgeted field trips. Some workers in the organization, primarily full-time employees, think canceling these trips is a bad move because they need some time off to relax and socialize away from workplace boredom. A handful of employees feel that vacation-like field trips are unnecessary because the money could be diverted to cushion everyone from the crisis. Write a 3 to 4-page essay explaining your opinion or position on this sensitive issue. Remember to present facts and provide real-life examples in your argument.  


These types of writing prompts can be in the form of a question, a statement, or a directive. Here are a few prompt examples. Moreover, your lecturer will direct you to produce a perfectly written and well-thought writing prompt in the following fields or disciplines and topics:

TechnologySocial Media, Internet and Tech, and Smartphones.

School and Career: Work and Careers, School, School Rules and Grading, Learning and Studying, College, Education Tech, and Teachers & Grading.  

Arts and EntertainmentMusic, Television, Language and Speech, Video Games, Books and Reading, Movies & Theater, Writing, and the Arts.

Identity and FamilyParenting, Money and Social Class,  Family, Neighborhood and Home, Childhood Memories, Holidays and Seasons, Growing Up, Role Models, Race, Ethnicity, Overcoming Adversity, Gender,  Your Personality, and Religion & Morality.

Science and Health: Health and Exercises, Science and Environment, and Animals & Pets.

Leisure Time and Social Life: Shopping and Cars, Friendship, Travel, Looks, Fashion, Dating and Sex, Holidays and Seasons, Looks & Fashion, Food, Shopping and Cars, Sports and Games, and Travel.

Civics and History: History and News, Guns and the Justice System, and Government Policy.

Additional Features of Writing Prompts

The core feature of a prompt essay is that it tells a story. While it is an essay centered on a thesis like a traditional academic essay, crafting a top-grade writing prompt requires you to use a storytelling narrative. This means you will use a given character’s first-person or third-person perspectives to support your thesis. Rather than using objective scientific information to support your thesis, as is the case when writing an academic essay, writing your prompt essay will force you to use storytelling to support your thesis through the plot you choose to use in your narrative essay.

Writing prompts require that you understand that your primary purpose in writing such an essay is to use a narrative formed by a story to support your thesis to either make a claim, prove a point, demonstrate something, or put forth a moral argument. This represents the equivalent of a thesis in a traditional academic essay. What is different in writing a prompt essay is that you will not explicitly lay out your thesis in the third person. Rather, your thesis should be part of the introduction of your essay and will represent the core element of the narrative that all of your body paragraphs will refer to. While writing a writing prompt thus involves using a thesis, as would be the case in a traditional academic essay, this thesis takes on a new form because of how you use a narrative storytelling approach.

You will advance a thesis for most prompt essays, but your thesis statement might not take on its traditional form. Rather, because writing a prompt essay often involves using personal experiences, anecdotes, and other types of informal information, the thesis you will use in these essays will be part of the story. Unlike a traditional academic essay in which the thesis is quite obvious, the thesis of a prompt essay might be more implicit because of how the thesis is a core part of the story. Keeping this in mind when writing a narrative essay is critical to getting a straight-A because how writing a narrative essay is so saliently premised on using storytelling.

Very simply, the writing prompt is a type of essay that diverges significantly from the traditional essay because of how it uses storytelling to support its thesis. With this involving the use of the first-person perspective, dialogue, and the absence of sources, a prompt essay is a unique type of essay. Keep this in mind as you write your writing prompt because you will use tools and elements that you would not consider when writing a traditional academic essay. Writing a prompt essay is unique, and the process of writing it will reflect the fundamental difference storytelling brings to writing a prompt essay.

Writing a Prompt Essay

The first step in writing any prompt essay is to choose a topic and then build a thesis or main point concerning this topic. While your professor will sometimes assign a topic or general orientation for writing your prompt essay, you will typically have a high degree of freedom in choosing your topic. When choosing your topic, make sure that you choose a topic for which it will be easy for you to come up with a thesis that you can integrate into a story and then support through at least three paragraphs of storytelling and a conclusion that is also based on storytelling. Because storytelling will be how you prove your thesis, make sure you pick a topic you can write about in story form before you begin writing a prompt essay.

Once you have formulated your thesis, you must write a writing prompt by transforming the logic you will use to support your thesis into a story. This means that each of the body paragraphs of your prompt essay should detail one set of events that support your thesis in a specific manner. Organizing your body paragraphs in story format, so they all talk about different elements while supporting your thesis is likely the most significant challenge of writing a prompt essay.

Lastly, writing a prompt essay requires significant organization. In reviewing the body paragraphs that you produce in writing a narrative essay, make sure that each of these body paragraphs provides a different element of support for your thesis or main point. You must also ensure that all body paragraphs tie back to your thesis. Unlike a traditional academic essay, writing a prompt essay means that you may include new information in your conclusion. Given that your conclusion will culminate your story by bringing it to an end, write your conclusion in line with the rest of the story and allow it to represent the logical conclusion of your storyline based on the specific approach to writing a prompt essay that you have taken.

Formatting Writing Prompts

When writing a prompt essay, your professor will likely ask you to write it in MLA style. This is because most wiring prompts are written in English classes. You might be asked to write a writing prompt using APA or Chicago style. Regardless of the style that you are asked to use to write a prompt essay, ensure that you follow the template your professor provides or that you research the formatting style through a source like Purdue University’s style guides to maintain consistent formatting and citations, if applicable when writing a prompt essay.

Once you format your writing prompt in the style your professor has mandated, it is time to ensure that your formatting is appropriate in terms of the organization of your story. This mostly means looking over your prompt essay to ensure that your story is clear and that the different paragraphs you have written all support one element of your thesis while connecting back to your thesis. Doing this is critical as the organization of your story concerning your thesis will be one of the elements that your professor uses in grading your writing prompt.


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