It is heartbreaking to see the stylings of academia as provided by a first year college student.
This article goes out to college freshmen (also freshwomen and freshalternatelygendered). Your writing is horrible. It affects your grade in a huge way. Huge! Not only because I can’t understand whateverthefuck you are trying to say and have to grade accordingly, but because you are personally offending me in multiple ways and I carry a grudge.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
I will teach you.
I will make you capable of not earning my wrath (and ideally also avoiding the wrath of the person who is specifically grading your paper).
I will make it easy for you to win.
I will do it in 5 easy steps. Are you ready? Awesome, because I already did it. Here, let me
Rule 1: Don’t use “I”
Look at the preceding four paragraphs. How did it make you feel when you read them? Like the focus of the conversation was me, right? The focus of your paper is not you. You, represented as “I”, should never, ever appear in your paper. Equally prohibited are “we”, “us”, “me”, or really any pronoun that references anything that is not the actual topic you are discussing. Anecdotal experiences have no place in academic writing.
Rule 2: Make a statement
Your days of regurgitating facts are over. You need to say something with your own voice. Say it in your paper’s title and say it again with the first statement in the paper. Lead strong – you are arguing a point. Say what your argument is right away.
The title of this post is provocative. It irritates you and you want to see more, if only to find something else you can be more offended by. It entices everybody else. “What the hell is this guy going on about? I must see more.” It absolutely caught the eye of anybody in academia. The opening statement of the post expanded and modified the title, drawing people in, keeping them curious, defining the document they were about to read.
Rule 3: No thesaurus, ever
If you open your thesaurus, know that it is an automatic letter grade deduction on your paper. You are presenting facts. Facts are precise. Words that may or may not actually mean what you are trying to say are not precise. Do not ever use a word that you do not understand. It almost always has meanings that you are not familiar with and will (at best) confuse your reader or (at worst) invalidate your statement.
Rule 4: Stick to two syllable words
Look just above Rule 1 above. Why did I strike out “elucidate” and replace it with “explain”? Besides the fact that I was setting up an example for this rule, I mean. It is because ‘explain’ is common, understood. It communicates effectively. “Elucidate” says I am trying to impress people with big words. It says I am concerned with showing you my intelligence rather than proving the validity of my statements. Your paper is not a place to impress people with big words, it’s a place you are trying to get your point across. Get it across clearly and concisely using the most common words possible.
Rule 5: Don’t write like me
All those “I” lines, the aggressive stance, the tone I put into this post… Don’t do that. Ever. Never, never, ever use a one word sentence for effect like I did in the previous sentence. Don’t use repetition for effect like I did in the sentence previous to this one. Don’t write as if you were in a conversation, like I’ve done for most of this post. Don’t use colloquialisms, idioms or pop-culture. Don’t wordify (using words you made up, like “wordify”, or ones that are out of the common lexicon). All of these have valid homes but academic writing is not one of them and they will offend the people grading your paper.
I just brought your ‘C’ up to at least a ‘B’. Shower me with riches after you graduate and you get your dream job.
5 thoughts on “Freshmen writers suck. Like a lot.”
This applies to anyone writing formal letters,Letters of complaint cover letters or any straight forward fact stating email. You wouldn’t hug your builder sit on the kitchen counter swinging your legs and calling him honey or love. A professional distance is what you would use. But that said I have never read the rules as simply concise as I have here. Good post and will be for many.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks, Ellen. I’m hoping to convince my wife and teachery friends to put this in their syllabi. At least for any classes where I’ll be looking at a paper.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Darn, I use a thesaurus all the time, are you going to fail me Jim? But seriously, kids these days…. I love your point about fancy sounding words. Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful language but clarity trumps pomposity! (You see what I did there?) Have a great day Jim!
LikeLiked by 1 person
You get the “knows how to use a thesaurus” exclusion. For freshmen a thesaurus is like a Solo cup at a frat party.
LikeLiked by 2 people