I am always astounded by students who send me 10-12 page “drafts” of their 3-5 page papers via email. They don’t ask me in class if I am willing to read drafts. Nor do they read the syllabus that says Ido not read “rough drafts” and offers a list of paper writing tools and mentors around campus; apparently, they don’t listen when I go over this in the first session or before handing out the paper assignment either. Their emails seldom actually ask for help but rather say things like “here’s my draft” or “when can you look at this because I’d like to get it done before the deadline.” My TAs tell me they are often carbon copied on these emails, though these students have not attended their paper writing sessions or come to paper writing office hours which are where they are told to go with “near finished drafts” as well as paper ideas.
There is a tacit belief on the part of students that by sending me an email a day or two before their papers are due that I will edit their work down to its proper page length, correct their egregious composition issues, and even look up their citations for them. Many also believe that I will ensure that all material that is outside the topic in the paper will be replaced with material that is inside of it. The other part of this belief, of course, is that when I return them their new polished 3-5 pages it is like a contract saying they will get an A when they turn it in.
On many levels, these emails are the height of laziness and poor scholarship. Worse, when I ignore these emails and make a blanket statement in class reminding people I don’t read drafts and to use the various resources listed on the syllabus, and my TAs each remind them of their “paper writing” workshops and office hours, these same students send demanding emails wondering why I have not reviewed their papers and pointing out the deadline for the paper as if I don’t know it. Some, only on the rarest of occasions, have even asked for an extension based on the fact that “I gave you my paper last night to review and you didn’t get it back to me before today, so I could turn it in.” Hmmmm …. Would you like me to wipe your bottom as well?
So you could imagine how amused I was when a Soc Prof on twitter linked to a video on what paper writing time, and midterms/exams in general, look like from this side of the desk. (warning there is language in this video that is an obvious exaggeration of the frustration some academics feel when faced with students unwilling to take responsibility for their own learning or work in the course; learning is a shared responsibility and that sharing means you do your part as much as we do ours):
When you are writing a paper, you should think about several things:
- this is an opportunity to show the level of your understanding and integration of the material and any attempt to shirk the task reflects negatively on your intelligence in the class
- writing is a critical skill that you must develop for success not only in college but outside of it, avoiding developing that skill by pushing it on to others does not help you, it hinders you
- there are multiple resources on most campuses to help you with writing that include (1) counseling for paper writing anxiety, (2) assessment for learning disabilities or emotional blockages that may actually constitute assignment modification for your needs, (3) writing centers that can help you with thesis development, cohesion, etc., (4) librarians and library workshops, that explain how to do research, how to cite, how to put ideas together, etc. (5) writing classes, writing intensive classes, or writing tutored or mentor classes which include an explicit commitment to teaching you how to write a college level paper and mentoring you through the process – take one of these early in your college career as an elective, and (6) TAs whose job is not to write your paper or review cobbled together scribblings but to help you narrow your ideas and compose them in a comprehensive way
- your peers are resources – everyone is in the learning process together in your class and therefore have access to the same material and expectations as you do, working together can provide opportunities for developing your collaboration skills, covering your blind spots, and idea generation in a diverse environment. The only thing you need to be careful of is that when it comes time to write, you do your own work.
- there are podcasts specifically devoted to grammar from Grammar Girl that may help you with the more pedantic aspects of writing as well
- Not knowing the style guide required for the class is not an excuse. Most style guides have basics online for free, the entire guides are available at the bookstore, the reference section of the library, and most writing centers. You should check which style is required at the beginning of the term and then familiarize yourself with it through out the course so you are ready when paper writing time arrives
- if you are less self-directed, I am told there are expensive citation programs that will not only hold all of your citations at the ready but format them in any of the major formatting styles for you
- your professor is there to clarify the assignment, offer feedback on self-generated paper topics or resources – they are not your personal writing tutor, paper selling factory, or anything else that allows you to push aside your intellectual commitment to learn
Education is not a magic bus you get on by paying your exorbitant fare, sleep in the back of, disrespect by doodling and chatting when awake, and then get off 4 years later with a 4.0 It is a process in which you are an equal and many times majority participant in learning. You have every right to complain about unreasonable expectations, harsh grading, and checked-out instructors, but you have no right to assume that your professor is going to pull out a breast, feed you, coddle you, wipe your bum, and lay you to rest in swaddling made out of fancy degrees.