But I've got a nice thing to share, too. It may even be related to plagiarism, because I'm sure that at least some plagiarists take these drastic measures because they get up against the wall on a deadline, usually due to poor time management.* They see a paper that seems really big to them, and they put it off because it just seems too big to face today. And tomorrow, it's worse. And eventually, they're up against a deadline, and they either turn in a crappy paper, or get all desperate and do Something Rash.
If there's one thing that this writing group (along with bitter past experience) has taught me, it's that structure, and working incrementally on a regular basis, is my friend. Would this work for my students in a class where they work on a medium-length independent paper project? Sure, they have to turn in a proposal/bibliography, and then a revised proposal/outline, and there are conferences to keep them on track. But they could still put off the actual writing of the thing, with the results noted above.** So I worked up a little guide that I called "Writing Your Paper in Seven Days." I used that "Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks" book as a mental jumping-off point, and tried to think of the manageable daily chunks that a short-ish (6-8 pages) undergraduate paper could break down into, and I think I came up with something useful, and workable for even the most intimidated undergraduate. Every day has a suggested task, an estimated time-to-complete, a "what you'll need" list, and about a page of narrative instruction and tips. Bearing in mind that this is for students who have already developed a question and done the research, here's how it broke down:
- Day One: Writing a strong thesis statement (15-45 min)
- Day Two: Organizing your Ideas: Outlines and Topic Sentences (90 min)
- Day Three: Writing up your Evidence Portion (4 hours -- may be broken up into two or more writing sessions)
- Day Four: Introducing and Concluding (60 min)
- Day Five: Putting on the finishing touches and smoothing out the Rough Edges (90 min)
- Day Six: Productive Rest
- Day Seven: Proofreading, and the Final Checklist (60-90 min)
I scheduled it so that the long day would fall on a weekend day. And I think this is adaptable for longer papers -- you'd just have to break the "writing your evidence portion" up into several days, each dedicated to a particular major section of their outline that represented 3-4 pages.
Granted, I'm sure that not everybody used it. And granted, I haven't started reading the papers yet. But I've had a couple of students tell me -- unsolicited, mind you! -- that this helped them organize their time and not let the bigness (to them) of the project intimidate them into putting it off until the last minute. So that's my big teaching moment for the semester, I think.
Now: Let's get grading!
*And sure, some of them plagiarize as a first resort, because they lack ethics. Grrrr... But I think that some are potentially decent students who dig themselves into a hole and don't know how to get out except by cheating. My "solution" can't do a damn thing about the former group, but it might help the latter.
**One of them did just that. I know, because when he came into my office less than 48 hours before the paper was due, not having even developed a research question yet (much less having done any research or developed a thesis statement), he flat-out told me, three times in the space of 15 minutes, that he was "just going to stay up all night Wednesday and get it done," and that "It's not a big deal." And this morning, I collected his paper -- all one page and two lines of it, completely thesis-free. ::sigh::