Blogs vs. Term Papers and Essays – A Growing Trend?

"They will write blogs, not term papers"

They will write blogs, not term papers

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:

Old

  • Make a point
  • Defend it
  • Repeat it
  • Summarize

New

  • Grab attention
  • Make your point
  • Support with evidence
  • Persuade to your point of view
  • Call to action

Communication Preferences

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.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Comments

  1. Sincerely, I never saw this trend coming. I guess this will be a stepping stone to teaching students how to survive in the outside world and not just school stuff. I hope this will spread because it’s definitely a welcome development.

    • Lanre – it’s a win-win for everyone. Students get to express their creativity, professors don’t have to read boring term papers, and the business world will be getting employees who can think and write in a more modern style.

  2. I completely agree, that the format of writing has changed. You pointed out that the one of the main changes is that now students know that they have to grab readers attention. I think this innovation is really cool! In a such simple way they can easily learn how to write eye-catching titles and headlines 🙂 So, all changes are for better.
    Emily Williams recently posted..Creative Infographics for Photographers About PhotographyMy Profile

    • Emily — thanks. If you can’t grab a reader’s attention then they won’t read the rest of what you’re writing. Just makes sense.

  3. Jeannette, in my opinion this is a trend that will make academic papers more like investigative journalism. Writing in an informal way, isn’t the name of the game – but grabbing the attention, which most people writing blogs actually don’t:-)

    Am all for this kind of development. However, when it comes to getting an academic degree you still need to write you thesis, but hopefully in a more journalistic way? Will also make it more interesting for the professors to read.
    Catarina Alexon recently posted..What’s next for The New York Times?My Profile

    • Dennis — yes, social media has conditioned us for the personal connection in our communications, be it in term papers, blogs or other media channels. Even the venerated New York Times has taken to writing its news coverage like feature stories.

  4. Jeannette, I think replacing term papers with blogging is a wonderful idea. It will help prepare students to deal in the real world. As long as the same standards are upheld as before for the writing to be grammatically correct, punctuate appropriately and without misspellings, I think there’s a lot of potential for the students to learn even more than if they were restricted to turning in a rigidly formatted term paper. Thanks for sharing this!
    Sherryl Perry recently posted..Thanks to SEO a Newspaper Reporter in Pennsylvania Found my BlogMy Profile

    • Sherryl — Yes, blogging will prepare students for a different world than we entered BI (before Internet). I also think blogging will unleash the creativity that is stifled by term papers with their rigid rules.

  5. Daniel — I’m not sure I agree with how you characterize blogs. Actually, research shows that longer blog posts — and blog posts are getting longer now — engage readers more than the 300-word posts that used to be the norm. Blogs need be accurate, too, and thoroughly researched. If a blog makes a point, it needs supporting evidence just like a term paper. The big difference, in my view, is in the use of more informal, user friendly language. It’s difficult to persuade an audience to your point of view in business if you presentation (read term paper) is so verbose and academic sounding that people tune out.