Professor Rogue’s Words of Wisdom on Citations for College Essays

11017610_439207669561918_657049086_nIf you don’t know this already, trust me – citations for your college essays are one of the most important elements of writing top-notch papers that will get you an A grade. Indeed, many professors, especially in English and the Humanities are incredibly nitpicky about citations for college essays, and will even dock large numbers of points for even the most minor errors in citation systems. If you’re worried about, or struggling with the implementation of a given citation style, you might just want to buy a custom essay, and leave that work to a professional. That said, however, and without writing an actual guide to writing citations for college essays, I’m going to provide you with a few tricks that might make your life, as it pertains to citations, much easier. I’m going to discuss MLA, Chicago, and APA citations, and I’m going to tell you why APA citations are the best when you’re writing a college essay.

Let’s get started with MLA citations – they are the bane of many undergraduates’ existence. Most commonly used in English literature classes as well in Humanities disciplines like History; MLA citations are based on what’s called a parenthetical system. That means that, after you list information which you found in a text, you should write something that looks a little bit like what will go right before this sentence’s period (Rogue, 1). In this case, let’s pretend that Rogue is my last name, and that 1 is the page number that this sentence is written on. What you’re basically doing, in making this type of citation, is saying that you got the information in the sentence or group of sentences preceding it on page 1 of an author with the surname Rogue. That’s pretty simple. The only problem with this system, and which drives me up a wall, is the need for page numbers. With MLA citations, you have to always note the page which you got your information from. That can be a real pain after you’ve read through a book, and forgot to flag the page which you got the information off of. But, if you’re forced to use MLA style for your college essay citations, you’re shit out of luck.

Moving forward to the Chicago style, it’s pretty similar to MLA, but actually has two variants. The first of these is called the footnote variant, and means that, instead of using a set of parentheses when citing your information, you use a footnote, and then place the bibliographic entry for the book or article you’re citing in the footnote. Like with MLA, you then add the page number to the end of the citation in the footnote. On the other hand, another variant of Chicago style is the author-date system. In this variant, you’re going to do something very similar to MLA by creating a set of parentheses like the one I showed you above for MLA (Rogue, 2015, 2). Evidently, Rogue is once again the surname of the author, the 2 is a reference to the page you found the information on, and 2015 refers to the year in which the work you’re citing was published. So, basically, it’s like MLA style with the added pain-in-the-ass of having to also find the year in which the work you’re citing was published. But, given that a lot of professors are assholes when it comes to college essay citations, make sure to check with your professor, if it’s not specified, as to whether they’re looking for the footnote or author-date variant.

Finally, the power and the glory of the APA system come out! I love APA parenthetical citations. Look at the end of this sentence (Rogue, 2015). That’s it – the author’s surname and the year in which the work was published. As you might be able to tell, APA is my favorite style for college essay citations. It’s simple, straightforward, and doesn’t require you to go back and find the damn page number that you’re referencing unless you’re making use of a direct quote, “in which case, your citation will look like the one which comes at the end of this sentence (Rogue, 2015: 3). APA is awesome. If you haven’t had time to read a book for your class, but you have access to a summary of it, use APA. Since you won’t need to use page numbers, you can get away with a skim of the book as you won’t have to actually know in which parts of the book the author says which things. While this might be dangerous in an upper-level class, where you might actually have to talk to your professor about your paper, it’s an easy-breezy way to make your life simpler in a large and low-level class.

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The top 5 worst term paper assignment types

Veteran writers for term paper writing services have seen all kinds of shit. Believe it or not, some of the reasons students try to outsource their work or beat TurnItIn have to do not with their own ethics, but because of the terrible assignments. Some professors leave students with no choice but to try and find a writing service to help them out.

Here are the top 5 worst term paper assignment types. Which do you remember from school? Which are you trying to get out of right now? Remember that if any of these are plaguing you, the experts at Unemployed Professors have got your back.


(SOURCE: Boyz in the Hood, 1991)

The “Drive-by Citing.”
We all know this one. Some professor thinks someone can address a complex topic….in 6 pages…with a requirement of 15 mandatory sources. Oh, you think this is crazy? I’ve written over 1,000 papers for Unemployed Professors. The shit I’ve seen has included requirements like these, with added bullshit bonus stuff like 1/3 of the sources must be tonal poems or something. The main purpose of these papers seems to be to get students to cite sources for no reason other than to cite source, because it is impossible to treat a complex, broad topic in a short span of pages while paying obeisance to dozens of secondary sources.


The “Haiku.”
I also call this the “Tweet.” The professor is asking for a 3000-word paper. All the student knows is that it’s supposed to be 3000 words and maybe use MLA formatting, or is it APA? All other instructions have been conveyed in the form of vague gestures, fluffy clouds, and tealeaves.

wall-of text

The opposite of the Haiku. The “Tl;dr.”
The opposite of the Haiku. The “Tl;dr.” Too long, didn’t read. Dear professors: If you’re assigning a 3-page paper, you should probably not include more than 3 pages of instructions. I’ve seen instructions for 3 page papers that topped out at, I kid you not, 10 pages single-spaced. Interesting variations include the condescending or snarky instructions, as well as the ones that blatantly mock students somewhere in the wall of text. Luckily nobody ever reads that far.


The factual scavenger hunt.
This is a highly structured paper that exists solely so students can regurgitate facts in an order proscribed by the professor. There is no argument, no critical thinking. It is simply a recall-based exam in essay form.


The fill-in-the blanks.
You know what I’m talking about. The professor isnt’ just holding your hand. I mean the professor is gripping your arm and basically telling you what to write. Underline and italicize the thesis statement. Use the thesis statement worksheet and make sure your thesis fits into the blank. Then make three, no more no less, arguments and sub arguments with a polite rebuttal. There is absolutely zero room for creativity or critical thought in these papers. They are effectively a long-form worksheet. But professors seem to love them. And why not? In every highly structured sentence, there are dozens of opportunities to ding students who dare to think for themselves.

Remember, even if you are dealing with a paper that doesn’t fit into one of these categories, one of our friendly, tweed-wearing Unemployed Professors is happy to help you tame the paper monster.

Third episode of Season 4 of Girls

girls I hate to engage in spoilers or speculation, but my take on the latest season of Girls is that Hannah is going to drop out of her MFA program in creative writing. For those of you just tuning in, last night was the third episode of Season 4 of Girls. During one emotional scene between Hannah and Elijah, she admits that in college, her best friend / roommate Marnie wrote most of her papers. Now that she’s in grad school, Hannah feels a certain emptiness from the opportunity to spend her time writing what she ostensibly wants to be writing.

But let’s stop right there. Hannah had her best friend write her papers in college! What about integrity?! On the other hand, let’s look at it another way: Hannah focused on what she was good at and found a way to leverage her time so that it worked for her. Hannah isn’t a terrible student or a desperate scumbag (well, depends on your opinion of Girls). She’s one of the whitest people who’s ever lived, true, but she is, comparatively speaking, normal. A lot of people may see themselves in her. And even she outsourced her less useful schoolwork. She did not say what Marnie got out of this arrangement, but we here at Unemployed Professors would postulate that she probably did not charge enough. On the other hand, if Marnie ditches Desi, completes a graduate degree and gets some teaching experience, perhaps she could get a gig at Unemployed Professors. Marnie seems to have a lot of experience beating the infamous TurnItIn and writing custom papers.

Girls’ shift to an academic Iowa setting may not work in the long-term for the show, but it certainly sets the characters in an interesting light vis-à-vis the potential for conversations about academic honesty.

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Making the transition from high school to college

how_it_workEvery year across the U.S., legions of freshmen enter college for the first time. For a select few, the transition from high school to college will go smoothly. Most freshmen will; however, find the transition from high school senior to college freshman to be a painstakingly long and painful one that is fraught with many hazards along the way. Entering college is an exciting and confusing time for most freshmen. Usually, this is the first time in most people’s lives where they live away from their parents and relatives. Not only are most living away from home for the first time, but at the same time they must learn to adapt in a dynamic, new and entirely alien environment. Upon entering college, students will find that the coursework is more intense, works hours are longer and they are often far away from the positive support networks of family and friends back home. In this new and confusing world, how does one not just cope and survive-but thrive in this new environment? The key to success in college often comes down to knowing several things.

First, it is essential to know how to write a good paper and in order to do this; one must know how to use both the APA and MLA style format. Second, one must know how to effectively research information when writing a paper. Finally, one must be able to seek out positive peer networks to help with integration into college student life.

Writing papers is a large (probably majority) part of every college student’s experience. The two most commonly used citation formats for writing papers used at the undergraduate level are the APA and MLA. Often times citing sources in a paper can become confusing. There are different procedures for citing books, newspaper articles, webpages, encyclopedias, etc… No one ever remembers how to cite this information perfectly. However, there is help. The best resource online for help with using APA and MLA style formats is the Purdue Online Writing Lab-known as OWL or Purdue OWL for short. This website is chalked full of helpful information on using APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago and many other writing styles. This website is a treasure-trove of information for college students of all levels! The website is The sooner you become skilled at writing research papers, the better! The best time to learn how to write a good research paper was yesterday, but since yesterday is gone-today is the second-best time to learn.

Another area that students (especially new students) have trouble in with regards to college is conducting good research for their papers. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen students try to use Wikipedia as a reference! Using good resources is a must to write A level papers. The best resources to use consist of peer-reviewed journal articles, encyclopedias (both online and hardcopy), textbooks and books written by recognized authorities in any given field. Early on in college I found that if I went lighter on the internet sites for resources (even those that were high-quality and acceptable for papers); and went heavier on textbooks, journal articles and books, the professor would usually be more generous in grading my papers. Some great resources for getting access to old textbooks are the local library and second-hand bookstores. It is surprising how cheap a textbook that is a few editions back can be purchased for! I have purchased old textbooks to supplement research for papers at prices as low as $7.00. However, there are a number of places on the internet that have scholarly peer-reviewed articles and even whole books that can be read online. Two places I recommend are Google Scholar and Google Books. Google Scholar has many peer-reviewed journal articles for free that can be accessed-though there are also a lot that are available for a fee. Another advantage to Google Scholar is that you can click on the “cite” option for any article and you are automatically supplied with the correct citations for said article in APA, MLA and Chicago styles.

Last; but not least, there is the problem of the lack of positive social-support networks. Oftentimes this gets overlooked in our highly individualistic and competitive society. The fact remains that many people who are new to college find themselves living far away from home and isolated. Without positive social support, it becomes easy to fall in with the wrong crowd and engage in a host of activities that could jeopardize academic and personal success. I always advise people to get in touch with groups of like-minded students at their campus. Fortunately this is quite easy to do! There are usually a host of student clubs on campus that can accommodate every type of person. Are you religious? Chances are that there are a number of religious organizations present at your campus. Maybe you are interested in politics? It is not hard to find political clubs that cater to Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, etc… Perhaps you are LGBT and want to form positive social connections to the local LGBT community? As you guessed, there are also clubs and student organizations that cater to helping LGBT students make the transition into college. These are just a few of the positive social support networks that can help students. Check out your local campus for more information about student clubs.

While this is not by any means a comprehensive list of resources that are needed to be successful in college, they fall into my favorites. I hope that this post helps many of you with school and adjusting to this new period in your lives. College is a journey and the best way to undertake any long, arduous journey is to have a comprehensive roadmap!

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How to Write the Perfect Conclusion: The Big “So What?”

UnemployedProfessor(light brown)Do you remember being taught the five-paragraph essay in grade school? It seemed easy enough; all you had to do was write an introduction, follow it with three body paragraphs that highlighted your main points, and then end it with a conclusion. In the traditional five-paragraph essay a student would have to state what their three main points would be in the introduction, and then be sure to reiterate that those three main points were addressed in the conclusion—this seems a bit redundant and robotic once you reach the college level.

While it’s important in an introductory paragraph to tell your audience where you plan to go with your paper, once you reach the conclusion simply stating the same points over again can come across as repetitive and turn your paper into a dead end. Once you reach the collegiate level your papers are expected to do more than just answer a question or establish an opinion; they are meant to engage with your audience and foster new discussions that will keep the conversation moving.

The best way to ensure that your conclusion doesn’t bring your paper to a halt is by asking yourself one big question as you write it: “So what?” In other words, you’ve said everything that you want to say about your subject, but why does it matter? Why should your audience care? What does your argument or opinion offer to the ongoing discussion of your topic held by your professors, peers, or even scholars with decades of experience? College-level writing is all about establishing credibility, and one way that you can do this is by demonstrating that you’re aware of the current debate and that you have something to add to it.

To give an example of the big “So what?” in action, say you want to write a paper about how Bella’s relationship with Edward in Twilight is unhealthy and abusive; rather than simply listing all the ways you feel the relationship is unhealthy and concluding it with a paragraph reiterating your points, ask yourself “So what?” You may realize that you have more to say on the matter, like books with these types of female role models can have a detrimental effect on young girls. This type of conclusion would open the conversation right up, leading others to wonder what those detrimental effects may be, or to consider what other characters in modern fiction are questionable role models for children.

By answering the big “So what?” you will be adding relevance to everything you wrote preceding it and in turn add longevity to your paper.

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Top 10 Tips For Writing a Professional Research Paper

faq_overHow do we do it? How do we at Unemployed Professors manage to produce so many top-quality research papers in so little time? The answer is that we each have our own method that is designed to create efficiencies while not compromising on quality.
Although there is no single right way of producing a professional research paper, here is one possible approach:

  1. Follow the rubric precisely. If the essay question calls for a ten-side paper divided into two parts addressing two different themes, then write a paper that does just that. Do not imagine that eight or twelve sides is acceptable, or that you can get away with covering only one theme, or that the paper will somehow be enhanced by addressing three or more themes. If the instructions stipulate that Harvard referencing must be used, do not use MLA. It’s basic stuff, but essential.
  2. Search for relevant sources. Sometimes the sources to be used are indicated in the instructions. Most research papers, however, require the writer to conduct independent research and to find appropriate sources him/herself. Click here to find out how to do this. Finding the relevant literature should be one of the first things a writer does. Most are available electronically through university libraries and Google Scholar.
  3. Do the reading. This is often the most time-consuming task, as it can take many hours, if not days, to read the relevant literature. There are some ways to save time: in the case of journal articles, for example, read the abstract first, then the introduction, then the conclusion. That way, you will know the key points the author is trying to make and may also get a sense of where in the article to find other important information. Another option is to use a keyword search in the case of electronic sources.
  4. Take notes. Whenever you come across something in the literature that seems relevant, note it down. If often pays to copy exact quotations together with their page numbers. If you have any thoughts about the literature while reading, especially critical ones, write those down, too. Put your notes for each source in a separate Google Drive document to begin with. Once you have finished reading each source, go through that document and add in the author and year before each page number. This can be done quickly by copying and pasting, and it means you will have a ready-made array of in-text citations to choose from when it comes to the writing stage.
  5. Create a bibliography. Counter-intuitively, the first part of the essay to be finalized will (if you follow this advice) be the bibliography. As you take notes, create a separate bibliography tab on Google Drive and add in the full bibliographic references, organized alphabetically by surname. By the time you have finished note-taking, your bibliography will be complete.
  6. Organize your notes thematically. Once you have done all the reading – and only then – divide your notes into themes or categories. Those themes will probably have suggested themselves to you over the course of the readings; if not, look for common themes as you go through your notes. Using separate Google Drive tabs for each theme, copy and paste the most relevant parts of your notes from their “author” tabs into the new “theme” tabs. Do not cut and paste, as you may potentially need your notes in their original form later on.
  7. Think about structure. The structure of the essay will largely depend on the themes you have identified and the argument you intend to make. It is at this point that you must be clear in your own mind what your thesis statement will be and how best to go about arguing your case given the material and knowledge you now have available. The different themes will likely correspond to different sections of the essay, but you will also need to have something original to say in each section that can form the “red thread” of your argument.
  8. Write up each section in turn. Now that you have a good sense of the overall shape of the paper, go through each section, turning the ready-made array of relevant thoughts and quotations into beautiful flowing prose. If the referencing style requires footnotes rather than in-text citations, be sure to use footnotes as you write up. Style is not something that can be easily taught; it develops over many years. Nevertheless, the professional writer can be relied upon to produce lucid, unambiguous sentences as well as touches of stylistic flourish. Plagiarism is unacceptable. Collate the various sections into one document so as to produce a single flowing argument.
  9. Add the introduction and conclusion. Just as the bibliography comes first in order of completion, so the introduction comes last (along with the conclusion). For only once the body of the essay has been written up does it become absolutely certain what the argument is. Only at this point can a punchy introduction be written that confidently announces a thesis statement and offers a “roadmap” for the rest of the essay. Similarly, only at this point is it absolutely clear what the sum findings of the argument are, making it easy to summarize those findings in the conclusion.

Format the paper and proof read. Once the body of the paper has been written, add the bibliography and format the paper according to requirements. Usually this involves the Times New Roman font, size 12, double-spaced with 2.5cm margins. Be sure to include page numbers, and make sure the page count (or word count) is correct. Perform a spelling and grammar check using your word processor. Finally, proof read the entire paper to make certain that its quality is as good as it can be.

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How To Find And Evaluate Credible Sources For Your Research Paper

birthThe essence of writing a research paper is engaging critically with a particular scholarly debate and making an original intervention of some kind. Key to writing a top-quality research paper, therefore, is making sure that you draw upon and critically evaluate the right sources. This involves two stages:

Finding Credible Sources

The sources you use must, in the main, be recognized scholarly sources, principally journal articles, academic books, and book chapters. Other allowable, if less common, sources include (but are by no means limited to) government websites, reports published by NGOs, academic conference proceedings, and media pieces of special significance. This means that you must resist the urge to include newspaper and magazine articles, blog entries, and random internet sites unless absolutely necessary for some reason. Wikipedia must definitely not appear in your research paper. The key principle for determining whether or not something should be deemed a credible source is usually (though not always) whether or not that source has undergone some form of academic peer review. You might also consider whether or not the author of a particular text is a reputable scholar working within the Higher Education sector, rather than, say, an ideologue, a journalist, or a talking head. Remember, the intervention you are aiming to make must be a scholarly one, and to that end you must target scholarly sources.

The best place to start when looking for credible sources is your university library. Virtually all university libraries today offer physical and electronic access to an enormous range of scholarly resources. Start with the library’s search engine, and think very hard about the key terms you wish to search for. Be as narrow and specific as you can, otherwise you risk being inundated with thousands upon thousands of results, and finding your credible sources becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most library search engines offer the possibility to refine your results by, for instance, books that are available in the university library and “peer-reviewed journal articles only.” Such filters are using for eliminating newspaper and magazine articles, which might otherwise also be thrown up. You can also usually filter results by “relevance” (how closely the item corresponds to the search terms) and by “date: newest first.” One useful tip is to begin by sorting by date and to read the most recent literature first. The reason for this is that the most recent literature will not only reflect debates that are ongoing, but it will also refer back to previous literature and give you a clear indication of what has already been said so that you do not necessarily have to read all the older literature yourself. Of course, searches by date should be accompanied by searches for relevance to make sure you are not missing a very relevant but older text, and the fact of starting with newer texts does not mean that older texts should not be read. It does mean that you will develop an overview of current debates more quickly, however.

Provided you have the relevant login details (normally your student ID and password), you should be able to download the vast majority of the electronic resources that appear in the search results from your university library. In practice, however, this is not always easy, especially if you do not have much experience with the process. Different university systems have different ways of accessing the texts that appear in the search results. Usually there is a link to “view online” or similar, which then takes you to database such as EBSCO Host or JStor, where you have to click again to access the text you want. Even when the text finally comes up, typically in pdf format, you still have to find a way of downloading it, and that will depend on the specific website to which you have been redirected by the database (e.g. an academic journal website). Other variants of this somewhat convoluted process are possible. The key point is, however, you should be able to access virtually every text that appears in your search results. Do not be put off by the practical challenges of doing so. Ask a librarian for help. It is important that you get hold of the right texts.

Another useful source for locating and accessing scholarly literature – though nowhere near as good as your university library – is Google Scholar. Sometimes you get lucky and authors have posted their articles in pdf format online somewhere (e.g., in which case Google Scholar often has a link to the article and you can download it for free. Often, however, Google Scholar will direct you to a journal website that requires a paid subscription to be able to access the article, in which case you need to make use of your university’s subscription (if it has one) by going through your university system.

It is also worth making use of Google Books: it never lets you see the whole book, and sometimes it does not let you see any of the book, but it certainly beats carting books back from the library or waiting for books to come through on interlibrary loan. Of course, you may still want to get hold of a physical copy, either because you cannot see the pages you need or the book is so important to your research that it would be easier simply to own a copy, but in many cases you can find what you need on Google Books.

Evaluating Credible Sources

Once you have the texts you need, the next step is to evaluate them critically. In order to do so, you need first to understand the argument the author of an individual text is making. To that end, it pays to take notes as you read so that you can go back through those notes and glean an overview of the key points of the argument, along with any key quotes. It also helps to read secondary literature: other commentators may be able to shed light on the text, or point out things that you did not see yourself. Having said that, do not feel obliged to consult secondary literature, and be wary of over-relying on others’ opinions. The aim is to develop your own critical analysis of the text, not to regurgitate what others have written.

When you feel as though you properly understand what the text is trying to convey on its own terms, you need to approach it a second time, only this time with a good dose of scepticism. You need to ask some probing questions. For example, where are the logical inconsistencies in the argument (there are usually some)? What important facts has the author neglected to mention that might run counter to his/her argument? What is the author’s ideological bias, and how does it affect the quality of the argument? What rhetorical techniques does the author use to mask the deficiencies in his/her argument? And so on. The aim of this second reading is to understand the text in your terms, not the author’s. Of course, it may be that you think the text is virtually flawless, which is fine provided you can justify that opinion (but remember: no text is completely flawless).

If, for each credible source, you are able to outline the argument, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and weigh those strengths and weaknesses against one another, then you are critically evaluating that source. By repeating the process for multiple sources, you will find that your own voice emerges strongly and authoritatively and that you have something interesting and original to say when it comes to making your own argument.

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Top 10 Term Paper Writing Mistakes


Despite the fact that most university assessments take the form of essay writing, relatively few professors bother to explain the fundamentals of essay writing to their students. As a result, the same mistakes tend to recur in students’ essays.

Here are ten of the most common:

  1. Not following the rubric. All essays must meet certain basic requirements, such as an appropriate number of sources to include, the word count, the correct referencing style, and so on. They must also meet the deadline. Failure to follow the rubric will result in automatic deductions from the final grade.
  2. Not answering the question. Some students begin by answering the question directly, only to drift off topic part way through the essay. Others change the essay question without permission in order to make it easier to answer. Other, more industrious, think they need to show off as many aspects of their extensive reading as possible, even if it has little or nothing to do with the question asked. In each case, there is a failure to stick to the question asked. This can be avoided by paying close attention to the precise wording of the essay question and checking at the end of each paragraph that it answers the question in some way.
  3. Little or no evidence of independent research. Doing the reading is normally the most time-consuming part of producing an essay. Often students simply cannot be bothered. This results in essays that fail to situate their arguments with respect to the relevant academic literature. Such essays consequently tend toward mere expressions of opinion rather than critically scholarly analysis. The antidote is, of course, to take the time to do the reading and to make sure you refer to relevant texts in your essay. Only texts that are referenced in the body of the essay should appear in the bibliography.
  4. The student’s own voice gets lost. The opposite tendency to not doing the reading is to read too widely and to get lost within the arguments of other scholars. Such papers often amount to: “scholar X say this, scholar Y says that, and scholar Z says something else.” The student’s own voice is absent, drowned out by the opinions of others. The trick is to evaluate the literature critically – to say what you think about it in the context of your own argument, not simply to cite the literature for the sake of citing it.
  5. Poor presentation. This can take a variety of forms. For example, the essay may become increasingly illegible as the printer ink runs out. It may be printed using the wrong font type and font size (Times New Roman, size 12 is the default option), or it may inconsistently use a variety of font types and font sizes. The line spacing and the margins may be wrong (double-spaced with 2.5cm margins is the norm). There may be a large blank space in the middle of the essay because of a word-processing error. The essay might display the student’s name instead of a student number (most universities prefer the latter so as to facilitate anonymous grading). In most cases, a simple proof-read of the final copy of the essay before submission is enough to detect presentational errors so that they can be eliminated.
  6. Poor spelling and grammar. Good spelling and grammar are like good manners: they make it easy for the reader to follow the flow of the essay without having to pause in order to ask: what is the student trying to say here? There is no excuse for poor spelling and grammar, because all reputable word processors have a tool to check for spelling mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies. Non-native English speakers are advised to have a native English speaker proof-read their essays prior to submission in order to make sure that their English flows properly.
  7. Poor referencing. For most Arts and Humanities and Social Science subjects, referencing nearly always falls into one of three styles: MLA, Harvard, or APA. Within each style, students generally only need to know how to reference books, book chapters, and journal articles, as well as how to format a bibliography. Yet, a sizeable minority of students fail to invest the short amount of time needed to learn correct referencing. Consequently, they get a lower grade than they need to even if the quality of their argument is high. Referencing style guidelines are easy to find online: it pays to familiarize yourself with them.
  8. Failure to grasp key concepts. Where students start work on an essay at the last minute, do not read enough secondary literature, and/or fail to invest enough time in thinking through what they have read, they run the risk of not grasping key concepts. This reflects a basic failure of understanding. Usually the best remedy is simply to do the work in the first place, or else to make use of your professor’s office hours if you are still struggling to understand.
  9. Poor structure. Essays that have not been properly thought out tend to exhibit poor structure. There is no obvious rationale as to why ideas have been arranged in the order they have been. This makes it hard to follow the argument. There is little or no logical progression to poorly structured arguments, and their hallmark is always that the reader never knows what to expect next. Good structure is put in place at the planning stage of the essay. Do not start writing as soon as you have finished the reading; instead take a moment to be clear about what it is you want to argue and how you intend to argue it. Clearly structured essays might make arguments for and against a particular thesis (rebutting counterarguments along the way). Or they might work through material/events in chronological order. Or they might proceed topic by topic or text by text. There is no single right way of structuring an essay, but a sensible rationale must be inferrable.
  10. Plagiarism. This is passing someone else’s ideas off as your own. In its crudest form, students simply copy and paste parts of another author’s writings from the internet. Professors usually spot this immediately, because the writing style suddenly changes. A more subtle form of plagiarism involves paraphrasing someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own without giving due credit to that person. Again, professors often recognize when students are stealing someone else’ argument. Sometimes students plagiarize unintentionally by not including enough references to make clear that another person’s ideas are being invoked. Paying someone else to write your essay for you also counts as plagiarism and carries severe penalties if detected. Most universities these days offer guidance on how to avoid plagiarism, and resources are also freely available online. The simplest way, however, is to make sure you include a reference every time you invoke an idea that is not your own.

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Going to graduate school

The Winner Takes All

imagesK2RQ71JLGoing to graduate school is generally a bad idea for at least 100 reasons – this I learned much too late in my career. As I learn to adapt to the current job market I find myself reflecting on the path that brought me to Unemployed Professors. My personal route started in some very humble beginnings and took me through a variety of academic situations around the globe. These experiences have left me with little faith in the U.S. higher education system. You may think that this view is jaded, but I am perfectly happy with my successive approximations of reality.

I believe that there are more than 100 reasons not to go to graduate school, all of which can be translated into reasons why undergraduate education is a bad deal for many. The one reason that tends to float to the top of the frothy head inside my mind is that the winner takes all in the world of academics. This is similar to pedigree, but applies to those who have managed to bypass those invisible barriers. Education is very much unlike the business world (although this is rapidly changing) in that one doesn’t need to be a high-level executive to make more than a living wage.

Think about high school. In practice, the faculty teaches two types of students, college bound and not college bound. This means that the educational resources go to the college bound, who are likely from relatively privileged parents. For those not going to college, the difference is negligible between the passing and top grade in a class.

This same grading structure applies in the universities. Sure, there is the priceless satisfaction of a job well done and some intellectual enlightenment, if you are lucky; however, for most students their only reasonable expectation is higher earning potential. And from what I have seen along the way here, this is the desire of most college students.

The odds are stacked against you. To think otherwise is to be foolish. If you are not a white male, then things are even worse.

For many universities, your return on investment is diminishingly small. It’s worse if you go to a community college for anything other than a trade. I usually tell most struggling students to go become a skilled tradesman – there’s more work, money, and job satisfaction.

My peers who have received the most benefits out of their higher education were born into a world of academics and/or privilege of some sort. Their parents are mainly educators, professors, doctors, and lawyers. College is easy for them because they have already learned everything they needed to know before you even thought college might be an option.

Those who already have the most benefits will continue to receive the most benefits.

I have yet to see any students become substantially recognized and rewarded for climbing out of failure and into top-level grades and marks. This is a crying shame because it is these people who have truly shown exceptional intellect and motivation. Only the awarded get awarded. If you were not the head of your class as a young teenager, do not expect much in the way of scholarships, fellowships, awards, citations, etc.

Do not expect your boss to care that you earned the highest grade in your epistemology course. Hell, most public school districts in the U.S. could care less about their teacher’s own grades. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but I am not talking about the tail end of the distribution.

Higher education has no place for students who are not already in first place. It is nearly analogous to why the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. But there is one crucial difference: Those at the top of the academic pile literally get everything and everybody else gets almost nothing – there is nothing in between. You can have good ideas; but, if they are not the best ideas, then you can expect no reward.

And guess what? The best ideas are not the best ideas. We all know this, but it doesn’t matter much. What matters in academics is if you have the privilege and prestige to back your ideas. These people get the very best resources, i.e. Ivy League and top government schools, while the rest of us can only ever hope to have one or two professors who care. I used to wonder why the professors at the top schools were the worst instructors. I now know that this is a stupid question; these students already have the necessary knowledge and background needed to succeed.

The best professors are at many community colleges. Period. These are the academics who entered the game for the right reasons: 1) They care about intellectual enlightenment. 2) They believe in equitable distribution of higher education. 3) They enjoy helping people achieve and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Coincidentally, these are the same reasons that ensure faculty failure at the best universities. Unfortunately, the community college students are not literate enough to understand this and the community college system is constructed in such a way that faculty are intellectually and academically castrated. At one community college, I was told that they do not normally hire PhD’s because they tend to overthink the job. I had to dumb down the way that I spoke to the hiring administration for fear of not getting the job. It is a depressing situation.

Universities have become quasi-trade schools for careers with no futures. In fact, a lot them started out as trade schools, uh, I mean, colleges for teachers. You are not walking into an environment that fosters enlightened discourse. You are entering a group that is a distribution between the extremes of people who like to party and those who simply want a well-paying job. Yes, there are a few students who have deluded themselves into believing that they are intellectuals. I say do not believe everything you think.

How do we accommodate all of these lovely students without failing everybody and collapsing the university system? We do this with grade inflation, student loans, and government grants. This means that most students need to get past some dickhead professor to get a degree that is effectively worthless.

The devalued bachelor’s degree has simply become another obstacle in life. Chances are that your new employer after college will not care about your sense of equality, imagination, creative writing skills, and so on. Your degree in anthropology only qualifies you to dig holes in the real world. Got a master’s degree in anthropology? Bigger holes. And guess what again? You will most likely end up with a boss that has the intellectual appetite of a goat and the human resource skills of Darth Vader.

At this point in my career, questioning the ethics of buying a model paper/essay is mooted by reality. To succeed in a situation where the winner takes all, one must not play by the rules. Disclaimer: However, you should keep it legal.

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June 19, 2014