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The Top 10 Things I Hate To See In (History) Papers—As Of Today

November 18, 2008

[Note: I just finished a stack of tough grading. It was a medium-length, critical paper assignment combining the analysis of readings and film viewings. There were some very good papers in the pile, but a few random and systematic errors nevertheless stood out.]

1. The word “nowadays.” Yuck.
2. Yet another reference to 9/11/2001. I thought this would stop after a few years, say in 2004-05, but it continues.
3. Excessive editorializing.
4. Slang—although I’ve noticed that “text speak” is down.
5. URLs used for end or footnotes—with no author, date, or publication references—just a link. Of course this assumes a source note is made.
6. Titles of books without underlines or italics.
7. Taking everything read at face value—no matter how hard you try to get people to think otherwise.
8. Never-ending paragraphs with no clear topic sentence—or topic for that matter.
9. Excessive i.d. info. on page one. In addition to the student’s name and the date, he or she adds my name, the class name, the assignment topic, and his or her favorite color, lucky number, dog’s nickname, and mother’s maiden name.
10. Generalizations based on one instance of something occurring.

That’s enough self-indulgent griping—for now. Feel free to add your own irritations to the list. – TL

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12 Comments
  1. Incoherent sentences. I had a student last year who could not construct a sentence to save her life, let alone a paragraph. She did terrible in the class because I never knew what the hell she was talking about.

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  2. TL: Have you thought of using this free guide with your students?

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  3. Lunchbox: Good addition.

    SF: Thanks for the citation. While that too would help, I do provide guidance in my syllabus on writing. And they've already gone through one grading cycle with me. The problem is not a lack of information that could help them, but rather their disinclination to use what's available. Still, I'll pass it on as a helpful guide.

    – TL

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  4. SF: Also, the assignment I just graded was not a pure research paper. It's my own invention. However, again, they had guidance. – TL

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  5. *Boilerplate first sentence on the pattern “X is very important in American history.”

    *Boilerplate last sentence on the pattern “X will continue to be an important issue for many years to come.”

    *”etc.”

    *”or whatever.”

    *”and stuff like that.”

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  6. Are you suggesting that a paper starting with “Nowadays, the economy is very important” doesn't contain a remarkable insight? whatever.

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  7. TL's Student permalink

    A thorough heading is useful for a paper when a title page is not used; in addition, I keep all my papers and like to know the class, professor, and specific assignment that it refers to.

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  8. Dear TL's Student,

    I was wondering if you'd check in and see this! I'm glad you did, but you were decidedly ~not~ who I had in mind when I wrote this. …And thanks for noting your record-keeping tactics. You're an historian in the making! But I think you're the exception rather than the rule.

    – TL

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  9. TL' Student permalink

    I must say I was watching this blog to see the first posting that dealt either directly or indirectly with something our class did…ps I really enjoyed the Weather Underground.

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  10. TL's Student,

    I knew you were out there, but I didn't have to censor myself here. I've repeated a few of these recommendations to your classmates in their papers. Since they don't read my comments, they surely won't go looking through blogs for comments about them.

    But, in general, yours is a ~good~ class. There's no reason for me to gripe here. And even if your class stunk, I wouldn't risk complaining in a public forum about it. I'd save it for colleagues over beers at an establishment not hip with students!

    And I'm very glad you found The Weather Underground rewarding. I wasn't concerned so much about your getting it, but I was pleased that several others seemed to find it stimulating.

    – TL

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  11. use of the present tense to describe events that took place in the past. Excessive use of helping verbs. thinking that a “quote” is “proof” of a point.

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  12. Jerry B permalink

    Yuck, I hate seeing mixed use of endnotes. A combination of citation and comprehensive information. For example…

    1. Diaz, Bernal. The True Account of the Conquest of New Spain. London, Hatchard and Son.

    2. A type of skirt worn by the native females.

    Argh! No. Or how about the cliche “in conclusion”.

    Perhaps Chicago style writing needs to be taught alongside MLA in the students' English class.

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