Ten Things Tuesday

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.



Filed under about writing, compassion and cooperation, composition, critical thinking, ethics, Grammar, great writing, Local U., self-analysis, Teaching, ten things Tuesday, the good ones, The Job

13 responses to “Ten Things Tuesday

  1. #9 is too important. People assume they will be walked through everything — not the case. A boss will assume a person has the skills to operate independently.

    Thoughts on this reference: MLK Jr. Does this lessen his importance? I hear it more and more.

  2. Carson, are you asking whether including the “Jr.” in Brother Martin’s name reduces his perceived importance? I don’t think so, personally, because it WAS part of his name; however, when I’m referring to him in my own (formal) writing, I refer to him alternately as MLK or Dr. King. I feel such an affinity for the man, though, that my personal, less formal writing often has me calling him Brother Martin. My dearest regret is that the man was taken from us the year before I got here.

  3. Denever

    Good stuff. May I quibble just a bit?

    “The practice of drafting through papers is kind of unique to your English classes.”

    To be honest, I had to read this sentence three times to get it. First thought (seriously): “What are ‘through papers’?” Second thought: “Ohhh – it’s ‘drafting through.’ Whatever happened to, um, ‘revising,’ ‘doing multiple drafts,’ ‘doing multiple revisions’?” (I’ve never heard anyone use this phrase.) Third thought: “‘Kind of unique’? Ugh!”

    Also, I think using “Malcolm” rather than “X” is arguable. A first name plus a faux created-to-make-a-point last name strikes me as falling into a gray area between a traditional “first name, last name” and a single-name stage moniker. (One thinks of the problems that ensue when the New York Times, whose policy is to use an honorific and last name in all reviews, sticks to that policy no matter what. Thus, we get references -tongue in cheek, I hope – to Meat Loaf as “Mr. Loaf.”)
    With Malcolm X, I’d be inclined to look at news and biographical sources to see what’s more commonly done. And perhaps that’s what you’re going by. I really don’t know; I’m just sayin’ … I think this one isn’t quite as clear cut as Einstein et al.

  4. Denever, pick all you want! I’m tough; I can take it. Besides, you should know by now that I don’t mind being called on my shit.

    I think that the “drafting through” phrase may be particular to my neighborhood; my colleagues and I use that term quite often, and I’d never have given it a second thought if you hadn’t pointed it out. You got me on “kind of unique,” but I’m being casual here, so I’m letting that one slide.

    As far as the naming goes, I do see where you’re going with that; one wouldn’t refer to Meat Loaf as “Mr. Loaf” (at least, I HOPE they wouldn’t, but I don’t put much past my students). I actually had the “what do we call Malcolm X in papers” conversation with some of my colleagues (and the head of the English department) back when we were studying “The Ballot or the Bullet” in our classes. The consensus was that “Malcolm X” was most acceptable, “X” was fine, but that “Malcolm” was too informal and came off as disrespectful. That’s what I taught my class, and I have no problem, really, with their using the name that Malcolm X chose for himself to refer to him in scholarly papers.

  5. drtombibey

    One often used in the South is “a man,” as in-
    “If a man was get him one of them Honder cars…”

    Dr. B

  6. Siobhan Curious

    I am going to bookmark this and compile my own list (with proper accreditation to you, of course.) Many of these are things I wish I could drum through my students’ heads – it might be easier if we had a list to refer to! Thanks.

  7. Here’s your next Grammar Wednesday:

    “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.

    Please explain why you chose to pair the singular verb is rather than the plural verb are with “they.”


  8. You know what, CTG? I fussed about this for a bit before I said it. I’ve really got no good reason for it, except to say that when I circle the (four or five) times the kids use “they” in their papers, the note I write in the margin is “WHO IS THIS?!” Often, the students use “they” to account for a corporation or organization, which is singular.

    Perhaps I should go back and make that “sound” a little better, huh?

  9. It’s obviously late for it now, but I wonder why you waited until the end of the term to give this to them. Would it not be more valuable to give it to them at the beginning, so that you can refer to it throughout the course? I’m not trying to be critical here. I’m genuinely curious to know. Thanks!

  10. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has to write “Who is this?” and “Who are they?” around ten times on every fifth paper or so.

  11. I read this last week but didn’t get a chance to comment. I actually printed this out the very day you posted it. I never actually wrote what I wanted my classes to learn but I can see how having it on paper will help keep me focused on the class goals when everything else starts driving me batty — lateness, incomplete assignments, etc.

    You’ve included some things on this list that I haven’t thought of but are invaluable. Thanks for that. You’ve also included some of my pet peeves — #3, #8, and #10. Aaaggh!

  12. Professor Rob

    After such good advice to students, I hate to pick a nit, but everyone else seems to be. So. . . don’t you mean these to be “10 things [you] want your FreshMEN to leave your class knowing”?

    Further (but not a picked nit), on the topic of “they”, I hate an indefinite “it”; particularly at the start of a sentence. “It seems rather obvious to this writer that The Who is the greatest rock band of all time.”

  13. OH, CRAP!! I totally missed that! I’m going to fix it RIGHT NOW! Thank you, Professor Rob!

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