Last semester, I had some worry about writing papers about literature. Sure, my college degree involved a lot of paper writing, but it was different. At St. John’s, primary sources were the only sources we used. Here, I would have to strive once again with my nemesis from high school – the research paper!

And it turned out to be not so bad. We were given a framework of a type of literary criticism and, within that framework, we were free to choose what we wanted to write about. For one paper, we even got to choose what texts we would write about. Not choose from a list given by the instructor, but open parameters – choose a play from antiquity or Shakespeare and one from the last century or so and compare them. It was a freedom that I relished, and I produced my highest scoring paper of the semester from it.

This semester is a little bit different.

Instead of providing a framework of text and type of criticism, there is a different kind of framework. The instructor provides a list of topics, each including a specific text. There is a research component, though only one outside source is required.

That’s fine.

Actually. . .


It’s not. The “topics” are lists of 5 or 6 or 10 related questions that are supposed to help focus the main question (which is not, I might point out, underlined).

But what really gets to me is that a draft is required to be turned in with the paper, and both must have the thesis sentence underlined.

Yes, just in case either I don’t know, or the instructor can’t tell, the thesis sentence must be underlined. 

I feel like I’ve been booted back to sixth grade, where the teacher almost flunked me in Vocabulary because I refused to regurgitate the exact, word-for-word, definitions from the workbook.

I feel like I’m in a losing game, because no matter what I write for my paper, it won’t be what the instructor is imagining as the answer to these overly thought-out topic questions.

I feel kind of bad for printing out my rough draft… See, I use the “word vomit” method of drafting. I’m not going to change that just because the instructor wants to read it. Okay, I changed it a little bit. I took out the whining and the swearing. Most of it. (I hope.) But I’m not going to write a one or two page draft, because that’s not what I do. So for my seven page paper, I handed in a fourteen page draft. Poor trees!

And I can hardly get started on the way I felt about the minimum word count/page requirement. My husband called it the instructor’s way of putting us in a round room and telling us to pee in a corner: 1500 to 2100 words in seven pages in MLA format.

But guess what? Seven pages in MLA format is more than 2100 words!

There’s a part of me that was quite tempted to figure out a way to expand the amount of ground that my words covered by using a thesaurus and finding the longest words possible. But then the lazy part of me won, and I just wrote 2200 words, barely sneaking on to seven pages.

At least there will only be two more papers for this class. I’m going to try really hard not to cringe when underlining the thesis.

But it won’t be easy.

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