Around this time in the semester we’re all recovering from one break and trying to punch through the last few weeks before finals. Many of us are busy writing up our final papers for the semester or preparing to do so. As I begin working on my own I was reminded of what one professor said to me last spring. She was giving a lecture before the whole class about our final research papers when she said that college papers are an opportunity for us as students and writers to be heard.
While I hope you’re not cringing at that, and even if you are I hope that in a weird way it can make sense for you the way it has for me. Consider a few things if you will. Someone is paying for your college education, whether it’s scholarships, grants, your parents, grandparents or student loans that you will one day have to pay back. Doesn’t that mean you should make the most of it? And to make the most of your money shouldn’t these papers be an opportunity? They can be if you look at them the right way.
Whether you’re looking to break into the field of Biochemistry, Business Management or just to become an English teacher, the writing assignments you get on the university level are about allowing you to express an opinion you hold and maybe to discover something about yourself. Not only can the writing you do in your field provide you with a background, it can be one of the first and biggest steps you take in determining what it is you want to do with your life. The research you do now is no less important than the research you do in five to ten years. What is different is that on the university level there is room for you to make mistakes and to explore new ideas in your writing and research that may disappear once you commit to your career path.
The point is that writing is not meant to be a way of filling up our time just to prove we're doing the work, even if we may sometimes see it that way. Many students, myself occasionally included, can have a bad habit of reading a prompt and seeing a requisite page length or word count instead of a chance to learn. The mistake here isn’t necessarily the fault of the student or the professor either. That does not mean that we shouldn’t make the extra effort for our own sake, because as one of my writing center colleagues pointed out, you lose nothing by trying to do better for yourself.
So in the next couple of weeks as the semester winds down and you get ready to churn out those last few pages, think about how you can make the most of your opportunities. You can go about doing just that by first thinking about what argument your paper is making and see if you actually support it. If you support your argument, think about what you would want to get out of the assignment. You should consider your sources if you have any, and then make sure that you have a clear goal for what your paper should achieve. In the end the work you put into the paper and what you get out of it is a lot more significant than just a grade. Last of all, remember that if you can’t take your own work seriously then there is no reason anyone else should either.