Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How to Write a Bad Paper

Some brilliant soul put up this website on how to write a bad Philosophy paper. I usually hand this out about now, since I am starting to get evidence that the students might want to rethink their paper writing strategies. Most of you will get a good chuckle. I like handing these directions out because it appeals to my sarcastic nature. My former colleague Hanno, as I am sure he will tell you, simply stapled a drop form when he handed back bad papers.


1. Don't prepare for class. When in class make sure you listen only to those things that will be relevant to your paper topic. Don't let extraneous information clutter your mind.

2. Sit in the back row; you will be called on less. If you are called on, mumble and cover your mouth with your hand. Teachers will learn not to call on you.

3. Be sure not to open your text. After all, doing so may reduce its resale value. Don't underline important phrases or make marginal notes. If you do, the thing will be worthless at the end of the semester when you need to get money for a trip to Europe.

4. Write your paper the night before it's due. The pressure will do wonders for your powers of concentration and selectivity. Definitely don't write a draft and revise it; that takes entirely too much time that would be better devoted to non-academic fun and games.

5. Be sure that you repeat what your professor has said in class. Verbatim transcripts work best in this regard. That way it's obvious you've been paying attention. After all, if you get your stuff straight from the horse's mouth, how can you go wrong?

6. If in doubt, be evasive and noncommittal. Use words like "seems," "appears," "maybe," "I think," and "in my opinion." If possible, end your paper with something like this: "But in the final analysis, who's to say?" This is known as a rhetorical question.

7. If you quote from the text, make sure you don't comment on the quote. You might get into trouble. It's always better to say something like: "The above quotation illustrates the author's point admirably." Don't say how, though. That's for the professor to figure out! And whatever you do, certainly don't attempt to evaluate anything. After all, you might get it wrong.

8. If you must have a thesis, make sure it's nice and vague and uncontroversial. Prove something that you're sure about and that only a moron would ever question. In addition, offer only broad generalizations to support the thesis; never get pinned down on details.

9. Whenever possible, use lots of jargon. In fact, the more the better. It will give your paper an air of authority. Also, it tends to confuse professors. After all, they can't give F's to what they don't understand! Besides, jargonized morphemes are the sort of things that look good in a paper. Your professor may even think you are a logophile.

10. Don't bother to proof-read. And whatever you do, don't get someone else to proof-read for you! Professors are paid good money to catch spelling errors and grammatical faults; make'em earn it. Don't ever use a computer spelling or grammar checker! Besides, when you're out of college a secretary will do that sort of stuff for you.

11. Finally, whenever possible turn your paper in late. Your professor will probably figure that you worked on it harder and longer than your classmates. After all, 'A' is for effort, isn't it?