Skip

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the plurality of clients was business administration majors
October 16, 2008 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Remember Laura K. Pahl, the girl who was famously humiliated for trying to buy a term paper over the internet? Perhaps she should have gone to a professional.
posted by Afroblanco (67 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dude, I remember ads for "TERM PAPERS? JUST CALL..." in Rolling Stone back when I was a teen n the mid-80's.
posted by jonmc at 3:48 PM on October 16, 2008


I loved this bit:
You have to make your own fun. In business papers, I'd often cite Marxist sources. When given an open topic assignment on ethics, I'd write on the ethics of buying term papers, and even include the broker's Web site as a source. My own novels and short stories were the topic of many papers — several DUMB CLIENTS rate me as their favorite author and they've never even read me, or anyone else. Whenever papers needed to refer to a client's own life experiences, I'd give the student various sexual hang-ups.
posted by barnacles at 3:56 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


You have to make your own fun. In business papers, I'd often cite Marxist sources.

Heh. At the used bookstore I work the buying counter at, we get a lot of 50's vintage porn-pulp novels. I bought one where there's a reference to a 'crazy old man' (living in a houseful of hot young things, natch) who keeps telling the locals about 'dialectical materialism.' Even though I reject most of Marxism, it kind of warms my cockles to imagine some starving hak sneaking his ideology into the stroke books he wrote for rent money.
posted by jonmc at 3:59 PM on October 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


In the paper mill biz, the paper isn't important. The deadline, page count, and number of sources are.

Not so different in the undergraduate education biz.

It saddens me to find that so much of my "earnest" undergrad paper experiences mirror Nick's writing for money experiences. Pick a position, cite a bunch of sources, play with the leading and the letterspacing, print out, go back to Quake 3/playing filmmaker with my buds. Rinse, repeat, graduate.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:04 PM on October 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


He makes an excellent point about how, for many students, the challenge in writing a term paper (and identifying the thesis statement) is that they likely have never read a term paper.

That all said, man, if I could get myself over my tired old ethics, I could make some extra cash this way.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:06 PM on October 16, 2008


Dude, I remember ads for "TERM PAPERS? JUST CALL..." in Rolling Stone back when I was a teen n the mid-70's.

NYT article and kotke on this subject.
posted by fixedgear at 4:06 PM on October 16, 2008


That's Nick Mamatas. Huh. I actually do know his stuff. Go me.
posted by Naberius at 4:06 PM on October 16, 2008


I wrote a paper once for another kid in Junior High School. For... compensation. He was a C average jock (a nice guy, actually, just not into academics), and I was the kind of student who got an A on any paper that I could muster up the motivation to actually turn in (this was shortly before I turned fully to the Dark Side, and started slacking off and skipping enough to completely ruin my reputation). The paper got him a C. I was horrified, but he was happy with it. His theory was that he would have received a C for anything he turned in that showed any effort at all, because that's all that was expected of him. And if the teacher had noticed that he turned in something better than average, it might have roused suspicions, anyway. So we both learned something that day. He learned that sometimes the only difference between average and excellence is the name on the paper. And I learned that he had excellent weed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on October 16, 2008 [24 favorites]


how do we know he actually wrote this article?
posted by boo_radley at 4:08 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


An archive link of the Laura K. Pahl blog post. 'cause the original link is dead, I didn't know about it and looked it up myself.
posted by HaloMan at 4:09 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wrote a paper once for another kid in Junior High School. For... compensation.

I did that three times in college for this dippy rich girl. Looking back I probably could've gotten laid based on it. I also let a budy of mine cheat off a math test of mine in 11th grade (he offered me a pack of Marlboros. we got caught and got detention. In the end who was harmed?)
posted by jonmc at 4:15 PM on October 16, 2008


Your lungs.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:16 PM on October 16, 2008


Joey Michaels, I agree -- he kinda buries his point a bit deep, but it's absolutely the case in regard to most of the writing required of undergrads. There's the expectation that they've been taught to write the proper way for term papers, short essays, essay answers on tests, and mini-theses, but it's rare for them to be explicitly trained in how to do so. Composition classes, it seem, often basically teach undergrads to write composition papers and little more (and do all universities even require comp courses, anyways?).
posted by barnacles at 4:17 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


*coughs*

The guy who cheated off me makes his living as an animator last I heard and we'd been friends since fifth grade so I figured I owed him. and it was 'Proofless Geometry' class (yes, I was really that dumb), we only took it so we could graduate. Cheating is a great american tradition.
posted by jonmc at 4:19 PM on October 16, 2008


I always wanted to be writer, but ...
posted by rxrfrx at 4:20 PM on October 16, 2008


This helped me out during a period of joblessness in college. Maybe I should add "ghostwriter" to my resume.
posted by spaltavian at 4:21 PM on October 16, 2008


I rather liked writing in college. I got lucky and didn't have any of the English Basics classes, where you're in a lecture hall with 300 other freshmen and other assorted students who put the class off (thanks, weird AP credits from high school classes!)

I had a rather picky Womens Lit professor who seemed to like my writing, and I wasn't trying terribly hard. Other students complained when they missed points, while I got the comment "it's a joy to read your writing." I never told anyone in that class, because I'd be bragging for doing nothing. Writing about it here? Eh, all those class-mates passed (or didin't), and y'all are probably somewhere else beyond such writing classes (or maybe don't need them - or I'm making tragic generalizations).

I never really thought of profiting off of my apparent skill, but I, too, fell to the Dark Side like Raining Florence, and that class was more of an excuse to not do other work, than it was something to avoid.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:38 PM on October 16, 2008


This helped me out during a period of joblessness in college. Maybe I should add "ghostwriter" to my resume.

Somehow, I'd imagine it would be hard to cite your references on future resumes.

Hehe, I amused myself with that one
posted by filthy light thief at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Along with selling bbq from a trunk, I thought about this during college. I decided against it, waaaaaaaay too much effort.
posted by sixcolors at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I sold BBQ to a kid once who wanted to sell it out of his trunk...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:44 PM on October 16, 2008


1.) I kind of want to write fake term papers.
2.) I've actually read one of Mr.Mamatas' books, and enjoyed it very much.
posted by redsparkler at 4:45 PM on October 16, 2008


I'm fairly sure that if you BBQ'd trunk the PETA people would be all over you.
posted by jonmc at 4:47 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love this bit about how people fail to be term paper fakers:

They generally made the same fundamental error — they tried to write term papers...
I had a girlfriend who had been an attorney and a journalist, and she wanted to try a paper. I gave her a five-page job on leash laws in dog parks, and she came home that evening with over 50 pages of print outs, all articles and citations. She sat down to write. Three hours later she was rolling on the floor and crying.


I was just thinking while reading the article is that I would have reacted just the same way. I don't know how to NOT write a proper term paper which is the best I can make it. But I'm also lazy and disorganized, so I don't get much written.

Seems to me that fake writing could be a good skill to develop.
posted by jb at 4:47 PM on October 16, 2008


Other useful skills include fake caring and fake not being an asshole.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:50 PM on October 16, 2008 [14 favorites]


My sister made a very good living this way for two years some time ago, right after she finished her own undergrad. She was a literature major (and happens to be quite a talented writer, if you can take my word for it), and had it down to a science. I frankly never understood the ethical dilemma other people would talk about -- my sister needed to eat, pay her rent, and pay her student loans; this was a way of getting properly compensated for her ability. That said, she was glad to get out of it eventually and into something a little more "normal." Now she freelances for legitimate clients. :)
posted by chihiro at 4:51 PM on October 16, 2008


To be honest - universities should not be teaching essay writing. It should be taught in GRADE SCHOOL, and continued in secondary school. There is no reason a 10-13 can't learn how to write a simple essay, but, of course, that means that they have to have mastered the rest of writing skills (letters, sentance forming, composition, and lastly argument construction) by that point.

Argument construction is the hardest to teach. They tried to teach us through speeches - but that just made me nervous because there was real pressure to be funny, and I always hate reading my own monologues. What they should have done was used Parliamentary style debating to teach how to argue -- you have a thesis (case) and main points (the reasons) and evidence (the evidence).

Essay writing is just writing one side of a debate out all pretty and stuff.
posted by jb at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


I frankly never understood the ethical dilemma other people would talk about -- my sister needed to eat, pay her rent, and pay her student loans; this was a way of getting properly compensated for her ability. That said, she was glad to get out of it eventually and into something a little more "normal." Now she freelances for legitimate clients.

I wouldn't want a surgeon to operate on me who let people write their term papers in med school or their undergrad science courses.

Now with some of the other majors, I can see this being less of a deal.
posted by sixcolors at 4:58 PM on October 16, 2008


Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That is all.
posted by Wolof at 5:03 PM on October 16, 2008


The quote that Barnacles pulled is what made me realize this was a dream job for me.

I've been hiding in-jokes in almost everything I write for many decades. Usually nobody gets them at all, which is fine with me, since they're not very good in-jokes, anyway.
posted by rokusan at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2008


Man, I ought to have done this. I always managed pretty good marks without doing any real research, which sounds like the ideal skillset. Of course, I also never hit the minimum page count, so maybe I wouldn't have been so great at it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:07 PM on October 16, 2008


Whoa... interesting! One of my closest buddies recently finished his tell-all memoir about writing students' papers, theses, and dissertations for the past 12 years. He graduated from Edinburgh and wanted to continue to learn about EVERYTHING. But how? What started as some extra money and a quest for knowledge, soon became his profession and the bane of his existence... especially when his baby was born last year. He's written everything from Kinesiology papers to Poli Sci theses. His biggest clients fell into two categories - Asian ESL students and professionals looking to upgrade their credentials... ironically enough, mostly teachers and principals. I tended to use cheathouse.com in university, but recycling really isn't an option these days. Can't wait to send him this post.
posted by gman at 5:09 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh man. Cheaters. A student at a university in another country plagiarized an animation of mine for an assignment once. Her assignment was then entered into an international contest where universities compete against each other. Another artist from the same country saw the submissions on local bus TVs and recognized my work in hers. He then wrote an angry blog post about it. Some of his fans were regular visitors to my site, and they all fired off angry emails to the school and to the contest officials... and to me. Pretty soon, I was hearing from the contest officials, the school, and the girl who did it (as well as her family). Everybody was profoundly apologetic and embarrassed, but in the end, I felt bad for the girl. She was devastated. She was about to be expelled and lose the degree she had already earned, and in her country, this is something that pretty much dooms you for life. Whether or not I should have, I felt so bad for her that I ended up pleading her case to her professors. I don't know whatever became of her. I was later invited to go over there as an artist-in-residence and teach a few classes, and I still sometimes hear from her professors, but long story short - don't cheat off somebody you discovered on the internet. Profoundly bad idea.
posted by katillathehun at 5:11 PM on October 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


That's an interesting point, sixcolors. I don't know enough about medical school, though, to say whether a prospective physician's failure to personally write a term paper would keep him from effectively treating patients. I suppose it might depend on what the term paper in question was supposed to teach that student. Aren't examinations, both written and practical, more important where medicine is concerned?

I'm not being snippy -- I'm honestly asking if there's a doctor in the house who can help us here. :)
posted by chihiro at 5:16 PM on October 16, 2008


I've been hiding in-jokes in almost everything I write for many decades. Usually nobody gets them at all, which is fine with me

That one always cracks me up. Fred? With a melon?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:17 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe I should also mention here that the site my sister worked for (which is now defunct) had LARGE disclaimers all over, telling students that these papers were to be used for research purposes only!!!!!!!

Not that that fooled anyone, of course.
posted by chihiro at 5:18 PM on October 16, 2008


I had a guy who wanted to cheat off of me in a BYU religion class. I was dating his former girlfriend.

I have 80 papers to grade, and 2% battery left, so I'd better go.
posted by mecran01 at 5:48 PM on October 16, 2008


Seriously, how do I get a gig like this?
posted by piratebowling at 6:14 PM on October 16, 2008


I notice that the original blog post is down.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:22 PM on October 16, 2008


This is the introduction to this comment. This my thesis right here, in this paragraph. Since this paragraph looks too short, I am padding it up with a couple of sentences. Am I supposed to offer a short version of my argument in the introduction? I can't remember.

This is my first supporting paragraph. There should be a statement here that supports my thesis. This sentence and the ones following it should show the truth behind my supporting argument. This looks like a nice place to insert a footnote 1.

This is my second supporting paragraph. The following is a literal quotation, "This is 'italics', they make your paper look legitimate"2. This sentence is devoid of any useful information.

This is the conclusion. These sentence repeats my first supporting statement. This sentence repeats my seconds supporting statement. This sentence shows how the previous sentences prove my original thesis right. This sentence repeats my thesis once again.

1. Footnotes look so professional.
2. Have fun with the first word in each paragraph or sentence, do not repeat the same word, as I just did. I spelled "feaces tauri", what an arrogant piece of shit I was.

posted by dirty lies at 6:54 PM on October 16, 2008 [15 favorites]


I used to do this. Wrote short stories for competitions - which occasionally won the "authors" more money than the amount I was paid. Wrote summaries for labs. Etc.

Despite the scumminess of the job (profiting in the misfortune of others, bottom-feederness, and other lovely things), I was actually really proud of the stuff I wrote. And I never fucked around by adding odd references to odd things, even in the stuff for DUMB CLIENTS. The only time I attempted to pull off fuckery was in my own papers: "... producing alcohol. Nobody is reading this. Addition of ...."

I'm actually kind of pissed that the author would purposely fuck with his clients. So maybe the DUMB CLIENTS deserved it. So maybe undergrad term papers get graded by flinging them up in the air and grading them according to the spot they land on. Yeah, but I figured that the clients would eventually have their comeuppance. Or maybe they really needed it (the one-timers, the ESL students), maybe it didn't matter anyway (flinging the papers up in the air for grading). In the meantime, I was being paid to do a good job, so I would try to do a good job. No knowledge gained in vain, etc.
posted by Xere at 6:54 PM on October 16, 2008


Seriously now, that is how I made it through high school and college. I spent all my time having fun or learning the important stuff (like writing code when I was supposed to be writing about business ethics), and wrote papers in my idle time.

Once you get the formula, you can write any paper you want. Come up with a thesis, 3 supporting statements per page, and start writing. The text will expand to occupy the required page count.

English is my second language, I find the trick a lot harder, but in Spanish I can write a college quality term paper at a rate of 1.5 pages per hour, with open books or Google, up to 3 if i am familiar with the subject matter.

I did this for money and favors many times, without any ethical problems at all. Now that I have reached the age where my classmates could turn out to be my surgeons or lawyers, I am starting to get a bit worried.
posted by dirty lies at 7:00 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously, how do I get a gig like this?
posted by piratebowling


Call Elephant Essays.
posted by gman at 7:00 PM on October 16, 2008


I notice that the original blog post is down.

No it isn't.

And here's a follow up, in which Laura protests her innocence.

Here's another, in which the blogger admits that he lied in the original post, and hadn't really reported Laura to the dean of her school, but plenty of his readers did, and they also harassed Laura.

So the blogger felt bad, especially after speaking to the Laura's nice mom, and pointlessly changed Laura's surname to 'Krishna' on his site, pausing only to promote his sketch comedy troupe for the umpteenth time.
posted by jack_mo at 7:04 PM on October 16, 2008


gman:

"One of my closest buddies recently finished his tell-all memoir about writing students' papers, theses, and dissertations for the past 12 years. He graduated from Edinburgh and wanted to continue to learn about EVERYTHING. But how?"

This is where you introduce your friend to the idea of writing freelance for a whole bunch of magazines. They technically pay you for the writing, but you get to keep learning about stuff, too.

I personally satisfy my own jones for learning new stuff by writing pieces for the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series of books. In the last week, I learned new stuff about Quakers, the Continental Congresses, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Mario Lanza. And got paid for it, which doesn't suck and is a nice way to keep pizza money rolling in between novels. And this way I don't have the guilt of greasing the downsloping karmic skids of some poor bastard undergrad, especially one who may become a professional I need to rely on for something.
posted by jscalzi at 7:11 PM on October 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's good to know that in this economy I always will have a job writing papers for lazy, well to do, students. It is certainly easier, and more profitable, than trying to tutor their lazy assess. I have not done this, but I live in a college town, and this is such easy work, if the economy eats my job, I will get you an A but it will cost you a week's worth of my groceries. Of course, you could hire me to teach you how to actually research and prepare an A paper, but frankly it is cheaper to just have me write it. It's not like I am special. Probably 75% of MeFi are in the same boat for cranking out your paper, so this is a growth industry.
posted by caddis at 7:18 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is awesome. I ghost-wrote a few highschool and college papers, when I was in highschool. This actually seems like a job I really might enjoy, I just never knew how to break into it, in a bigger way than favors for friends.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:02 PM on October 16, 2008


An interesting post Afroblanco, thanks.

That essay by Nick Mamatas was fascinating reading. When I went to schools, in Jamaica, in NYC, in London, I was never taught any formula for writing an essay and struggled earnestly with trying to please my teachers, completely lost. I *wish* I'd known the formulas mentioned so casually by Mamatas and the other writers in this thread. I never knew that points were made referring to specific, required things or making routine arguments for or against something. Why don't English teachers just say this stuff straight out? Why is this some sort of secret? Just teach essay writing, plain and simple, directly, how to make points, the formula, honestly.

If students are supposed to learn how to think, then why not have Thinking101?

Years ago somebody gave me a pass to a Romance Writers convention here in NYC. Knowing that kind of writing is schlock, I was curious about the people who wrote those kinds of books and went on an anthropological look-see. It blew me away they spoke so plainly about the basic formulas for novels, not just romance novels (55% of all paperback books sold in North America) but most fiction. This included the usual number of pages in a chapter, how many chapters in a novel, how many words on a page, how many pages. There were all kinds of tips, tricks, plans. A kind of paint by numbers thing with words.

The surprise of going to these romance novel seminars was that writing was treated not as The Sacred Printed Word, but as a practical thing, like anything else, construction, cooking. Nobody demeans recipes, "Oh that chicken cacciatore was so obviously made using a [sneer] recipe!" Why should writing recipes be considered inferior? In literature there're appetites for anything from canned maccaroni pulp fiction to Gratinée de Coquilles St Jacques exquisite novels.

And it seems that novels, however beautifully written, do usually follow some basic novel writing outlines.

My sister teaches her young students to write school essays like a sandwich. A bland beginning and end, a paragraph each like bread, with the tasty filling in the middle. I love that.

I've always wanted to learn how to write, to learn basic, practical principles. This should probably be an AskMe question but do any of you writers in this thread have any ideas on books to learn writing basics, practical stuff?
posted by nickyskye at 8:30 PM on October 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


I've been drinking soy white russians all night and googling plagiarized papers from my own class, so this was a welcome insight.

I am teaching freshman composition for the first time this semester, and I agree that we should be showing students the kind of writing that they are supposed to be producing. My program generally tries to combat this by assigning readings that are in the same genre as the essays we want our students to write (ie, not novels).

But that apparently does not stop people from copying their paper directly from Wikipedia anyway. Laziness is its own problem.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:01 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I felt so bad for her that I ended up pleading her case to her professors. I don't know whatever became of her. I was later invited to go over there as an artist-in-residence and teach a few classes, and I still sometimes hear from her professors

Wow, katillathehun, is that a great story.
posted by mediareport at 9:14 PM on October 16, 2008


This all makes me think... I wonder if Dubya did this sort of thing in school... and whether that lead to hiring a ghost writer during his adult career... and if that lead to fabricating intelligence about Iraq...
posted by XMLicious at 10:30 PM on October 16, 2008


chihiro: My sister made a very good living this way for two years some time ago, right after she finished her own undergrad. She was a literature major (and happens to be quite a talented writer, if you can take my word for it), and had it down to a science. I frankly never understood the ethical dilemma other people would talk about -- my sister needed to eat, pay her rent, and pay her student loans; this was a way of getting properly compensated for her ability.

I don't want to hear anyone who did this, from either side of the it (buying or selling), complaining about dropping literacy rates or new hires who have all the credentials that say they can do their jobs but are totally incompetent.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:37 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting and timely post, thank you. I just received my first batch of essays and will be starting to mark them tomorrow. I sincerely hope none are plagiarized, and yes, I'll be using my friend Google to check. However, I did think the author of that article made some good points about students feeling lost and not knowing how to write or what their instructors expect of them. I feel frustrated for my own students: I teach a women's studies course where there is barely enough time to cover all the content, and writing/research skills are not part of the course. So, my women's studies students are expected to already know how to write a research paper when they land in my (intro-level) course. Yet they are not required to take a composition course before they take my class, and most of them haven't. So, in my opinion, they are being set up for failure. Students aren't born knowing how to write and do research, and apparently they aren't being taught in high school. I do what I can by making myself available to the students outside of class time for writing help--I also teach English and have taught composition--and I try to carve a little class time out for writing instruction during the semester, but it's not enough.

Nickyskye: A book we used in the writing centre where I used to work was The Least You Should Know About English. Half of it is about mechanics (grammar/spelling/punctuation), and the other half is on writing skills (brainstorming, organization, providing support for your ideas). Our students liked it and we tutors found it to be clearly written, straightforward, and useful.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:17 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nickyskye, the book I had in high school was Writers Inc. It gives you most of the recipes you will need.
posted by dirty lies at 12:26 AM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


nickyskye writes 'When I went to schools, in Jamaica, in NYC, in London, I was never taught any formula for writing an essay and struggled earnestly with trying to please my teachers, completely lost.'

It is strange that teachers know how to write a good essay, and mark according to certain standards, but don't always directly teach essay-writing. One of the best teachers I ever had, for History GCSE, completely ignored the curriculum and spent the first month of the two year course teaching us how to be good little researchers and essay writers - our class almost all got A grades, the classes that learned by rote and were taught with the exams in mind did much worse, and I still use the techniques he taught me 17 years ago every day at work.

Also, am I right in thinking that American schools and universities demand a very strict formula for essays? I can guess that a 'thesis statement' is an introductory paragraph, but it's not a term I know, and it sounds like there's a very specific style of doing that introduction. The idea of providing a minimum number of citations per page seems oddly formulaic, too. It wasn't like that at all when I was at school and university in the UK: you could still get good marks even if you took a bit of a free jazz approach to essay writing, as long as your arguments were good. Obviously there were ways of scoring easy points - quoting from a recent article in an obscure journal rather than something on the reading list, parodying some extreme/unusual critical perspective, &c. - but sticking to a bog standard essay template wasn't required, and would probably mark you out as a bit of an unimaginative student.
posted by jack_mo at 3:22 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hear you, Mitrovarr. While I agree that, ideally, university students would be doing their own work in order to become productive and competent employees, I also think that jb hits the nail on the head when she says this should be taught in grade school, never left until college (which it is for so many students). This is the root of the problem.
posted by chihiro at 4:24 AM on October 17, 2008


but sticking to a bog standard essay template wasn't required, and would probably mark you out as a bit of an unimaginative student.

That's what we do best here, jack_mo.

(Only half-kidding. Sob).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:12 AM on October 17, 2008


This sort of thing annoys and disgusts me. Not that someone can make a living doing it, but the idea that students are so desperate and clueless that they have to resort to this, or so disillusioned that they feel they can simply buy their way out of anything.

I've taught college kids that clearly should never have graduated high school. It's damn impossible to teach them how to write a coherent argument when half of them can't even follow basic rules of grammar. There is a failure in education well before the college level. Many, many students in college should not be there yet. An amazing number of college students would benefit from starting at a community college, taking the remedial courses that community colleges provide, before transitioning to a larger institution. Large universities simply do not have the resources to help students that need to learn basic skills. At the university I attended, it was fairly common knowledge that (for example) the intro level math course was a re-hash of high school algebra; if you didn't already know it, you wouldn't pass it, but you could take the pre-algebra course at the local community college first and it would really increase your chances of passing the university's intro course. I'm sure the same thing applies in writing courses.

Also, the only real way to stop the kids from cheating is to make them do the writing in class, in front of you, unsupported. As in "OK, today we're going to write a thesis statement. Take the readings we just discussed, and write one paragraph stating a position, and how you plan to support that position, as if you were beginning to write an entire paper."

Then you get the fun of dissecting the statements together, and discussing as a group why some are thesis statements and some are not...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:09 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hoo boy.

Reminds me of an employee I had at my last job. Dude couldn't write a simple email to save his life. Seriously. Could not form a proper sentence. And he wasn't a stupid guy. Wasn't even someone for whom English was a second language. Eventually, I had to confront him about it, because the emails he sent out to the rest of the company made my department look bad. I was like, "Didn't they make you write stuff in college?" To which he responded, "Yeah, but I always had someone edit my papers for me." And at the time, I thought, "Wow, this dude totally fucked himself out of an education." But, upon reading articles like this, I find myself thinking more along the lines of, "Well shit, at least he tried to write, and didn't just buy his essays wholesale."
posted by Afroblanco at 7:45 AM on October 17, 2008


jscalzi - This is where you introduce your friend to the idea of writing freelance for a whole bunch of magazines. They technically pay you for the writing, but you get to keep learning about stuff, too.

That's EXACTLY where he's at since burning his bridges.
posted by gman at 7:55 AM on October 17, 2008


hurdy gurdy girl, thanks for the The Least You Should Know About English recommendation. However, that book doesn't sound practical enough for what I was hoping to read in terms of structure. That's the main thing I think Mamatas gets when talking about writing these papers. He gave paper writing tasks to people who were professionals, a journalist, for example, and the task of the essay was so hard the journalist/attorney cried. Grammar,spelling,punctuation (tediously boring) brainstorming, organization, providing support for ideas (very fun, creatively exhilarating) when combined with being earnest and lost about the structure, ends up, imo, making for fed-up students. It's the structure issue I think that students are not taught. Mamatus is cynical talking about structure. He calls it "filling pages" because it's so routine for him. He's got the skeleton, the anatomy and fleshes it out.

No skeleton, then no matter how good the grammar or brainstorming, one is left with a writing blob, lol. I love research, love learning, am overly enthusiastic about pretty much everything, it's basic writing structure I've always wanted to know and it sounds like many of the writers in this thread take for granted.

dirty lies, Writing Inc. sounds like what I was looking for. Recipes. Thank you. A MeFite friend gave me an Amazon gift certificate last year for my birthday, this is what I'm going to buy with it. If I'm able to write a book or books having used this structure, I'll dedicate it to you. Dedicating the book/s to dirty_lies may sound strange though. ;-)

Writing Inc.
was written specifically for essays, I think, or do you think it's also good for writing non-fiction books?

jack_mo, So nice to hear about a good teacher who taught what was needed from the students' pov and offered essential, practical, do-able information that translated into success.
posted by nickyskye at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2008


jack_mo: A thesis statement is the sentence in the intro that states your thesis; that states what you're going to be arguing. ("Americans write bad, formulaic essays.") Or in a paragraph, the one that states what the paragraph is about.

I learned the 1-3-1 (1 para intro, 3 para body, for 3 separate arguments, 1 para conclusion) in K-12. Then I got to college, and a women's studies prof (hi, hurdy gurdy girl!) handed me back a couple papers saying, yeah, it's a solid paper, but 1-3-1 is boring. I still tend to think through papers that way, though I try to write them a bit more freeform, but she was right: having that sort of reflexive constraint means you end up with two strong arguments and a weak one to fill a paragraph, or three strong arguments, and a fourth kinda cool thing squished into the last paragraph and not expanded on, or any number of lousy outcomes. It also makes it harder to write a lengthy paper - if you can't go up and down from "BIG PICTURE IDEA HERE" to "and here's why that point holds" at will, structuring a paper with more than 3 ideas becomes very confusing.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2008


There's a special 10th Circle of Hell reserved for people who agree to do this for a living. I thoroughly understand the ethical problems here, giant ones, even while having issues with the way countless colleges and universities do business these days. There's no excuse for doing this. Even with a lousy economy, you can find other things to do if you're clever and well-read enough to sneak Marxist references into business papers. And you're most certainly not putting anything over on the Man by doing that. You're a schmuck, a bum.
posted by raysmj at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2008


nickyskye, we used that book to learn to write essays, letters, resumes, etc... It is very very useful in the "learn the rules before you can break them" kind of way.

You can dedicate your next resume to me :).

Some of my friends who took the class that used the book went on to write short stories or become bloggers. One of them won a couple of awards even. I believe that learning to write with a clear structure, to transmit as much information with as little waste of words as possible, and to follow a train of ideas to its logical conclusion makes writing fiction later a lot easier.
posted by dirty lies at 1:37 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe this has been linked here before, but it is still good. How to write interesting essays.
posted by dirty lies at 1:40 PM on October 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


When I was in college in Russia, where this kind of stuff is much more rampant, I once actually took a written and oral English exam for somebody else.
The girl in question was enrolled in a distance-learning program, and the only time she was actually required to show up in person, aside from taking care of administrative paperwork type stuff, was for exams. She'd only transferred into this program for the last year or semester of school, and so none of the professors had ever seen her in person before.
This was the final English exam for her 5-year degree, similar to a B.A. here. Apparently she was terrible at English and had been able to fake her way through the year, but naturally couldn't do so for the exam. I, on the other hand, having grown up in Canada, was by that time absolutely bilingual. She was a friend of a friend and I was reluctantly pressured into a favor.
I was terrified. The way it works at Russian universities is that every student has a special book into which all their exam and course grades are entered throughout all their years at the school (in addition to the profs putting it in their own paperwork, of course) and which you are required to bring with you to every exam (or have to then chase your prof down afterward to put it in there for you). In the front of this book is your name, date of birth, program you're in etc., and a PHOTO of you, with an official stamp over it, to prevent exactly the sort of stunt I was trying to pull. I didn't look anything like this girl, other than also having dark hair.
The written part of the exam was ok - I made sure to make a few mistakes here and there so that it would look normal. The oral part was much harder, because of my (lack of Russian, or British, which is how it's taught there, or anything in between) accent - there was simply no way I could pretend NOT to speak like someone fresh off the boat from the other side of the Atlantic without sounding completely comical, over-the-top, and fake... Of course the moment came when I was asked about this, and I made up a story about studying with an American tutor. This was accepted without a problem, and I was praised on my excellent knowledge and hard work, which made me cringe with embarassment and felt absolutely terrible.
The A was put into "my" little book without any further questions, and the friend of a friend came out with decent grades instead of failing her final year because of English. Good luck and godspeed to her.

(In retrospect, that was a really stupid thing to do. I would have been in a world of trouble, including risking expulsion from my own school, if I'd been caught. And I should have DEFINITELY asked for more in recompense than a bottle of absinthe.)
posted by wretched_rhapsody at 2:23 PM on October 17, 2008


Writers Inc. looks like a good recipe book; I've ordered a copy. Thanks for the recommendation, dirty lies.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:37 PM on October 17, 2008


dirty lies, what a great essay on writing essays. I love that Paul Graham guy. Sweet recommendation. Much appreciated.
posted by nickyskye at 7:30 PM on October 18, 2008


« Older "Can I interest you in a faith-based account?"   |   No Mudslinging. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post