Alternately titled; Ten Things I Want My Freshmen to Leave My Class Knowing:
I’m printing this and handing it out on the last day of classes.
1. The practice of drafting through papers is kind of unique to your English classes. Almost every other professor you’ll ever have is going to assign you a paper and expect you to do it all on your own. Never again will you have your proverbial hand held through the paper writing process as we’ve done this semester.
2. Big words don’t always imply to your teacher that you’re thinking big thoughts. Make sure that the word you’re using actually means what you want to say, because nothing grinds a professor’s gear faster than an inappropriately used word. Don’t be afraid to say something simply.
3. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, use last names when referring to people. Albert Einstein is Einstein, not Albert. If a character is typically referred to by his or her first name (Huck, Dorothy, that sort of thing) or if a personality goes by only one name (Cher, Bono), that’s fine, but please call Dr. King Dr. King or Abraham Lincoln Lincoln. Oh, and Malcolm X? You may refer to him as X; that’s far more appropriate and respectful than calling him Malcolm in a research paper.
4. Unless you’re directly addressing your reader – and unless you’re writing a letter or a speech, you’ll almost never directly address your reader in academic or professional writing – do NOT use the pronoun “you.” Get in the habit of substituting “one” or “people” where you want to use “you.” For example, “one may experience feelings of lightheadedness and blurred vision just prior to a stroke” is far more appropriate than saying “you may experience.” While it’s true that *I* – Mrs. Chili – may experience these things, that’s not the point you’re trying to make.
5. Along the same lines, please be particularly careful that you define who “they” is in your work. “They claim that 65% of all high school graduates can’t locate Australia on a map” is an unacceptable claim unless you’ve told us who “they” is. Likewise, if you’re talking about two or more people, make sure we know who the pronouns refer to. For example, “he stood for peaceful resistance and didn’t hold with his policy of militarism and active revolt” makes no sense. Rewrite that to say “Dr. King stood for peaceful resistance and didn’t hold with X’s policy of militarism and revolt.” Much clearer, that.
6. It’s worth your time and effort to make annotated bibiliographies. Speaking from years of research paper writing experience, I can tell you that many’s the time that I have needed a particular source, only to realize that I didn’t take good enough notes to be able to find the piece that I was looking for. It doesn’t have to be all formal and pretty, but do take enough notes so that you can find that ONE sentence that you want to quote to really nail your paper together. Trust me on this one.
7. I’m certainly not going to tell you how to budget your time, but you may want to reconsider your habit of 2 a.m.-the-morning-before paper writing, especially in light of item #1 on this list.
8. Work on developing a professional voice. It’s certainly fine – and important, I think – that your own voice come through in your writing, but if you regularly pepper your speech with “dude” and “like” and “ya know,” be aware that these might come through in your writing, and that these have no place in academic work. Don’t be flippant, don’t make claims that you can’t support, and don’t conclude a paper with “and that’s all I have to say about that.” I don’t appreciate it, and neither will any of your other professors.
9. DO NOT write your papers to say only what you think your professors want to hear. Any good instructor will respect your right to express an opinion that differs from one they hold, but only if you can do so in a way that’s comprehensive, rational, and respectful. I encorage my students to disagree with me – and to go out on limbs they’re not sure will bear their weight – but I do not appreciate students who are contrary for its own sake. Remember the wisdom of Taylor Mali; state what you believe in a manner which bespeaks the conviction with which you believe it. Don’t kiss up, and don’t pander. Think your own thoughts.
10. Remember that you have my personal email address. USE IT. Just because I won’t be your teacher after the 15th doesn’t mean I stop caring about what happens to you. I will happily proofread your drafts, offer suggestions on where and how to look for good sources for your research, and teach you about the proper use of commas and apostrophes. I’ll still be here, all you’ve got to do is shout out.