How to Write Papers for High School and College

I am a teacher.  Right now I am an adjunct professor in Audio Production at the New England Institute of Art and I just was hired as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in the Sound Recording and Technology Department.  When I collect written assignments from students, I feel like they’re putting a flaming bag of poo on my front porch.  Flaming Bag of PooDon’t get me wrong, sometimes I get students turning in a good paper, and every once in a while I get a great paper too.  I am pretty sure that the problem is that these kids never learned how to write in high school.  I’m not sure if I should be angry at the schools who graduate kids who can’t write effectively, the parents who don’t make sure that their kids can write, or the kids who aren’t working hard enough. So I have taken it upon myself (and anyone who wants to comment…) to write up a list of expectations that I have when a student hands in a paper, or a project, or even sends me an email.

Write Like Professionals Talk

Read what you write out loud.  If you sound like the words are in the wrong order, or it sounds confusing STOP! Think about how you would say the sentence out loud to your teacher and then write that down. Read it out loud again.  Does it still sound like you aren’t sure what you’re talking about? Keep repeating the process until you sound like a pro.

Contractions and Possessives

You should avoid using contractions like “she’d,” “they’re,” and “wasn’t.”  A contraction is when you take two words and combine them, using a single quote or apostrophe ( ‘ ) instead of some letters.  This is usually perfectly OK in informal emails to teachers, in blogs and in text messages.

Possessives are not contractions.  “Henry’s” is a good example of a possessive. It means that Henry owns the thing that comes next- it belongs to him. Possessives are OK in formal writing.

Swearing and Profanity

You shouldn’t use profanity, swearing or any other impolite language in your papers or in your emails. You can always think of better words to describe something than “shitty,” “ass-tastic,” or “fucking.”  Even if you have a loose and easy going professor that doesn’t mind verbal uses of profanity, NEVER write it down. Papers and emails can come back to bite you because they can be forwarded to deans, department heads, other teachers, mental health councilors, potential employers, your parents or it could get posted in a blog like this one.

Unless You’re Prince…

Replacing “you” with ‘U,’ “Two,” “too,” or “to” with “2,” “later” with “l8r,” is not OK.  Email and text message writing has somehow pervaded academic writing.  Unless you plan on typing all your papers on a numeric key pad with your thumbs, this is out of the equestion.

Everything Should Be Typed

Unless your teacher specifically tells you differently, everything that you turn in should be typed with 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced with 1 inch margins all around.  It’s easier to read, it makes you look professional and it means that you have a software copy as well as a hard copy, just in case.

Use Spell Checkers

Every word processor has automatic spell checking now. Just turn on autochecking and then fix the words that are wrong.  When you turn in work with mispellings it makes it look like you don’t care about the work that you’re doing. Or it makes you look like an ignoramous. You choose.

Spell the teacher’s name correctly. This can also make you look a little dopey.

Typos and Little Mistakes

Everyone makes little mistakes in their work and teachers understand this.  Try to avoid as many as possible and always re-read your writing to see if it makes sense and that you don’t have any big mistakes left in the work.

Pleez dont turn in NE shitty paperz. It sux. CU L8R…

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