3 for Thursday: 3 Things I Don’t Like about Your Term Paper

Failing-GradeDear Student,

I know you are wondering why your term paper did not fair well. I know you were in class the day I covered the syllabus, because I remember seeing you checking Twitter on your cell phone. Let me provide you three areas that I believe you need to work on most. If these are at all unclear, please contact me @bwithrow on Twitter and use the hashtag #Ididnotpayattentioninclass.

1) What you turned in wasn’t the assignment

The biggest mistake a student can make is to turn in a paper without looking at the requirements. You were responsible for answering very specific questions for your paper and your title page even led me to believe you were going to do just that, but to my surprise you populated your paper with unrelated filler. You even missed the minimal number of page numbers and you turned it in late asking for grace, since you “didn’t realize it was due a few days before.”

We professors do not write syllabi because it is our favorite part of the job. (It’s not.) We don’t write them because our accreditation requires it. (Well, not entirely for that reason.) We write them because we want our students to succeed. When you ignore the details of the assignment, a failing grade is really the only outcome you should expect. Read the syllabus. Then read it again. And read it before you work on any assignment.

 2) What you turned in wasn’t research

A research paper should include actual research, not the first ten sources that appear in a Google search and a wikipedia entry. Note how the syllabus defines the boundaries of what you may or may not use. Note the bold and italicized letters that say “Wikipedia is not an acceptable source.” Note how I do not allow blogs or random websites as a resource for this paper. Why? Because anyone with an internet connection can say whatever they want online.

If I say to use journals, then make use of those databases you have at your disposal. You don’t even have to get out of your pajamas to do it. Just over a decade ago, most scholars and students had to use clumsy indexes to find articles. They had to pull physical copies of journals off the shelf and then pay to photocopy them, only to discover the article was not as helpful as they hoped and they now have less money. Today, search engines like EBSCO and JSTOR provide instant search results for thousands of journals, which you can download and read on your laptop or tablet all before taking your morning shower.

So I’ll be honest, unless you’ve been in the hospital or just lost someone close, there really is no excuse for lazy research.

3) What you turned in wasn’t your work

Lastly, a paper you turned in to me was not really yours. I’d like to give you credit, but you copied and pasted text from a dozen resources. You didn’t include quotation marks (those curly marks that go before and after words that are not yours) or citations. Imagine, if you will, that you spent a year writing a great and publishable paper. Now imagine someone taking that paper, publishing it in their name, and robbing you of credit.

That’s what you just did to someone else.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, unless it is plagiarism or intellectual theft—the high crime of academia. When your entire paper was the hard work of others and you dared to put your name on it, then you should never expect it to pass. In many schools, you may be lucky to stay at all.

I hope these suggestions help. I want you to learn from your mistakes, however, I am not obligated to enable your laziness. There will be initial times of grace and I will answer any question you send my way—even if the answer is, “read the syllabus.”

However, if your term paper ignores the syllabus, is poorly researched, or isn’t your work altogether, then you might expect an “F.”


Your Frustrated Professor.




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