Jamesfeelsgreat, this is a FANTASTIC question. Good on you. Now, where to start?
1) Don’t write the paper the night before. Don’t do it. Stop. You think we can’t tell? We can. Don’t. Freaking. Do. It. It’s not only because it results in a terrible paper (and it always does, despite your thinking you got away with it in the past), but you’re doing yourself a disservice. Who wants to pull an all-nighter writing a paper, be it on Brahms lieder, asymmetrical gender relations, or Descartes? Check yourself before you wreck yourself. As soon as the paper is assigned, start working. Even if it’s just a sentence or two a day, do SOMETHING every day. Not only will your paper be that much more thoughtful, because you’ve spent so much more time thinking about it, but you won’t have to stay up all night writing it. Win/win.
2) The hardest part is always overcoming the terror of the white page. To that effect: don’t be afraid to write something terrible. Truly. Something so stupid, inane, even embarrassing you can’t even believe you’re wasting your time putting it up on the screen.
(Yes, even something that nonsensical.)
The empty page is scary because you feel pressured to write something worthwhile, right? If you eliminate that pressure, you’re going to find it much easier to follow the previous advice (see 1). You can even title it something like “A Really Terrible Paper About __________,” in big bold letters so there’s no confusion. Just remember to change that title, which brings me to number three…
3) Read that shit through before turning it in. This again ties into not waiting until the last minute. Remember step 2? About writing anything, no matter how stupid? Well, some of that stuff was probably pretty stupid, and now you need to change it. And if you ignored step 1 (shame on you) and waited until the last minute, you would be surprised at how loose sentence syntax gets at 3 am. But the number one worst offender…
(If you haven’t read the full entry on the Alot, go here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html)
Every time an undergraduate writes “alot,” a teacher somewhere has an aneurysm. Same goes for apostrophed plurals. Even if you change NOTHING ELSE in your edits, when you turn in a paper with “alot,” it says to your professor “I give zero shits about what I am handing in to you. None.” This may be true. But here’s the thing — that professor does. Even if you can’t muster any kind of interest for yourself, at least have sympathy for the professor, who will have to read anywhere from 20 to 60 other papers, all riddled with “alots.”
This is such a good question, it might require multiple entries, just so
the screaming ends everyone at WiM gets to put in their two cents. Once again, thanks for the ask, and we hope you find this helpful!
UPDATE: Speaking about giving zero shits about what you hand in reminds us of another way you can demonstrate that: by not reading the assignment. Oh, yes, your eyes may flicker over it, and it looks like you’re supposed to talk about this one piece, and great, wevs, here’s a play-by-play of sonata-allegro form, I’m off to watch Duck Dynasty or some shit. But then you get the paper back with a D- glaring back at you, with the assignment stapled to the top and the bit that reads “do not write a play-by-play description of your work’s form” circled and highlighted. What does your professor think when you turn in something like that?
Congratulations! You’ve wasted both your time and your professor’s, and you’ve made yourself look like a complete dumbass in the process!
Our moral, then, is to READ THE ASSIGNMENT CAREFULLY. If you don’t understand what’s required of you, then for Cthulhu’s sake, ask. Even the most apparently insipid question about clarifying the goals of the paper is preferable to failing it because you were to embarrassed to ask. And after you finish writing and you’re engaged in step no. 3 and are in fact reading that shit through, make sure what you’ve written actually does what the assignment asks. You’d be surprised how your memory can trick you into remembering an entirely different set of requirements from the ones your professor wants.
It’s great to get questions like this—if the denizens of blogland like this sort of thing, let us know, and we’ll see if we can expand it into a continuing series!