Underachiever

I've been feeling pretty discouraged today.

Last night, I sent my professor my paper, because I wanted some feedback and because I needed to be sure I was on the right track.  I think I said so before, but I'm feeling very in the dark with this assignment, so I'm seeking as much guidance as I can get.  I got it back last night, she was really fast about the critique, and her remarks made me feel like a terrible underachiever.  Her email was upbeat, she encouraged me to keep up the work and reminded me about the standards by which this paper should be written, but there's a lot wrong with the paper so far and I'm only half done.  I'm glad I didn't finish the whole paper, just to find out that it needs this much work and re-writing.

Even with her feedback, I'm still feeling really lost.  Part of the problem is that I don't know how to make the leap from undergraduate writer to graduate writer.  The standards are much higher when you're a graduate student, my paper shouldn't sound like it was written by an undergrad, it should sound like a scholarly article fit for academic publication.  I'm still an undergrad but I'm also a grad student.  I know that I should know how to write the way she's suggesting I should know how to write, but I don't.  I write the way I write, I've always been conscious about what I'm saying, and though the way I write has always been acceptable, suddenly it's not anymore and I'm at a loss to understand how to bridge the gap.

One day, they're handing you a bachelor's degree, the next they're expecting you to write like a scholar, rather than a student.  There's zero guidance.  They don't tell you how to ramp up the writing skill, they just expect you to magically know.  I don't mind learning to be a better, more conscious, academic writer but it's not something I can learn all on my own.  This is the equivalent of going straight from 7th grade to college.  It's really very frustrating and it's left me feeling very hollow about my ability to succeed as a graduate student.

So, I'm going to revise what I have so far based on my prof's suggestions, but I also set out this afternoon to find guidance about academic writing on the graduate level, because I'm so lost.  By way of help, I found this Graduate Level Academic Writing Guide from The University of Western Ontario.  It's a PDF presentation that offers quick tips about being a better writer on the graduate level.  I found it really helpful and am going to sit down and try to fiddle with my paper using some of their suggestions.  Hopefully between my professor and The University of Western Ontario, I'll be able to whip this paper into shape and get a good grade.  I can't do poorly in this class, I simply can't.  As it is, I'm entering graduate school with one grade on my record, I really want it to be a good one.

If you have any, and I do mean any,  suggestions about how I might improve upon my writing style and subsequently my grade, I want to hear them!  If all else fails, I'm going to go talk to one of my professors and see if she can offer me some tips to make the transition by.  For now, I'm off to hunt down more help, because let's face it, I need all the help I can get.

4 comments

  1. OK, you are going to have to take what I am about to write with a grain of salt because I haven't gone through Grad School. This is advice that I have gathered from a book called The Courage To Write by Ralph Keyes, and it is going to fly in the face of that writing guide from the UWO.

    Now, I haven't read your paper, or seen the advice that your professor has given you. The gist of what he said in that particular chapter:

    In academic settings, clarity of thought and expression aren't just not encouraged but actively discouraged, especially at the highest levels. Instead, the type of writing that is seen as prestigious and worth giving higher grades to is stuff that is needlessly complicated, filled with "scholarly language" which is just jargon meant to create a community within individual disciplines. Ask yourself if any of your recent readings from the class you are writing this paper for would be easy for someone who was not part of that discipline to read, and ask yourself why that is? Are the concepts too advanced for laymen or is the writing overly convoluted, full of abstractions and passive tense verbs.

    In an anecdote related in that chapter, a writing instructor (Richard Bullock) was approached by one of his students who was presented with a problem. She had a sociology professor who was consistently failing her papers because she was presenting her thoughts TOO clearly, and while he was very reluctant to do so (as it went against everything he taught in his class), he taught her how to write in that awful soulless way (those are my words).

    Keyes then describes an experiment where professors were shown two journals that were the same in terms of subject and presented material, and asked to choose which was the more prestigious. Overwhelmingly, the one that was less readable by the Flesch Reading Ease Test was consistently picked as the more prestigious publication.

    I know it defies logic that somehow clarity may be your foe in all this, but perhaps it it, especially if you are writing in a way that is understandable to people outside your field.
    .-= MC´s last blog ..The Christmas TV Companion: A Review =-.

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  2. omg. i just wrote out this long shpiel about Academia Scholars vs Creative Writers and had to stop before i posted.
    lol. I was really about to take up a soapbox and call it home for a few days and this is not my blog.
    So.
    I agree with MC. College is stilted and it's sad that to do well in a class you don't actually have to learn much except what style of writing your Prof. prefers. You can use that method and apply it to almost all your profs. It's crap but it's reality on occasion.

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  3. Yeah, Academic Writing is almost diametrically opposed to the kind of writing you want to do... it avoids honesty and clarity.
    .-= MC´s last blog ..Friday Favorite: Remembering some good ole 1980's Schlock! =-.

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  4. Thank you both for your insights. I've been so distraught about this, I'm just unsure how to approach finishing this assignment in a way my professor will accept as academic and scholarly.

    MC - I think I may have that book around here somewhere. I'll have to look for it. I have a ton of books about writing, but none of them offer any really good insights about being an academic writer. If I don't have it, it's probably something I looked at. The writer sounds familiar.

    Mayren - I think it's very difficult to know what professors want, especially this early in the game. This is my first grad class, so I'm hoping not all professors are this hard on my style. I hate being called an amateur!

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