The words “term paper” strike fear into the hearts of students, followed closely by “essay.” I remember those dark days of burning the candle to finish a term paper in college. It usually wasn’t fun if you had been assigned a specific topic.
I was lucky that my English professor, Dr. Edward Chalfant, didn’t require term papers, but simply asked us to write what we felt about an American novel or a Shakespearean play.
He was ahead of his time and foretold the coming of the blog, an informal style of writing that can enable a more personal connection between students and professors and between companies and customers in the business world.
Blogging for Grades
The New York Times weighed in on this topic recently, quoting educators who advocate trashing the old-fashioned term paper and those who still preach that students need the discipline of the format: make a point, defend it, repeat it.
Championing the blog as a legitimate and more modern style of writing is Cathy N. Davidson, an English professor at Duke, who has written extensively about learning in the digital age. She wants to replace the term paper with the blog and says, “This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers.”
Instead of term papers, she assigns her students to publish 500-1,500 word entries on an internal class blog as essays for public consumption. Many professors at other institutions are following her lead
The New Way of Writing
There is no doubt that writing has become informal with the advent of the Internet and social media. But don’t blame the Internet for everything. The trend towards a more conversational style started long ago when television entered almost every home. We’ve become accustomed to receiving information in “sound bites.”
Let’s face it: we want to be entertained. Fox News leads the audience ratings because the network understands this new paradigm.
Training students to write term papers and dissertations that no one will ever read again is not training students for the workplace. Yes, students must learn the basic rules of grammar. People won’t read poorly written blog posts just as professors will downgrade poorly written essays.
Out With the Old, In With the New
But the format for writing has changed:
- Make a point
- Defend it
- Repeat it
- Grab attention
- Make your point
- Support with evidence
- Persuade to your point of view
- Call to action
Students who enter the workforce will soon learn the rules. How do their managers want to receive information: verbally, by email, in a written document? They sure don’t want something that reads like a term paper.
The most important element to any communication – written or verbal – is the call to action.
During our entire work lives we will be required to persuade others to our points of view. That’s how we assume more responsibility and authority. It isn’t good if no one pays attention to you.
George H. W. Bush famously insisted that his staff prepare one-page summaries on important issues. The President had the power to start conflicts, appoint Supreme Court Justices and approve or veto legislation. Yet, he wanted his information in short takes and felt that was enough to make a decision.
Blogging is the New Term Paper
Kudos to those professors who understand that the way we communicate has changed forever. Holding onto to old communications vehicles – like the term paper – is self-defeating. Worse, it doesn’t prepare students for the real world.