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How to Write a C Paper

Updated: Sep 6


2022 update: What I wrote six years ago sounds callous and hypocritical now. I found a typo in the first line. Nonetheless, the advice rings true. I still think these are ways of languishing rather than developing in mind and in writing. So, with that in mind, perhaps theses notes can still instruct how not to do it. But I'm changing the tone.


1. Any paper, essay, project could have any name and get any grade, but after years of seeing these things shuffle across my eyes, I feel like a C title would be 1-3 words that indicate the broad area, a subject, or broad topic. Right away, no sense of a stance or focus—Fracking, for example. An essay shouldn't be graded on it's title, but a categorical, vague, or pedestrian title still sends a rhetorical message that the author may not present analysis or perspective, or, worse, that they didn't care too much about their own writing. It's almost like inviting a C, though, yes, there can be an A paper with a nothing title. So . . .

2. When the first paragraph starts with "In today's society . . ." and important or significant and either increasing or more and more show up somewhere in the first two lines . . .. When I see those, I reverse engineer that those specific words probably came into play due to an approach of writing the introduction first. That would be fine in a draft so that the page isn't blank and as a way to think out loud. But then once the paper was developed, the writer doesn't go back and rethink the introduction, or, maybe anything. The nowadays and some says become empty grabs at significance because the author hasn't yet figured out what they want their paper to say and to whom or why.

3. DEBUNKED! I had written, "Also in the first two lines, include at least one linguistic error, but not more than three. Items 2 and 3 can be combined in one shot by beginning with 'In todays society . . ..'" I wonder if I had duplicated the in the first line back in 2016 to be ironic. I hope so, but I'm not cool enough to do cringe humor. I don't think this is good advice, here. I think I could see some linguistic errors and still be thinking A. So, yeah, D E B U N K E D ! That said, organization, clarity, etc., these are tools and the world is cruel and bigoted, so we have to be able to strategize our images as they appear in our language.

4. "Including a thesis statement or otherwise clearly identifying your focus in the introduction can be a dangerous move," wrote the very snide 2016 me. But I really have seen many intros that end by identifying three loosely connected aspects of some mundane thing, each of which could be the focus of a book series. When a paper starts like that, it's very hard to imagine anything purposeful or interesting coming thereafter.

5. Cite exclusively from PETA, Yahoo! News, and your uncle's friend's blog that's not actually up yet but will be soon. I questioned the veracity of some of one student's sources. He was positively quoting the source via the snippet included on a fact checking webpage debunking what was said in the snippet. I sat there in a computer lab sort of dumbfounded, both of us looking at a Snopes article. What should I have asked? Why would you say something is true when you know it is false? It may come from a presumption that authenticity is arbitrary. But the more typical route to a grade higher than C is authentic investment in one's own writing.

6. I'm pretty sure A papers at least sometimes quote without signal phrases. “100% of teenagers are under twenty” (Smith & Patel). But they're missed sometimes, and in C papers, quite often, the relevance of the quote to the preceding and following sentences is indiscernible.

7. [etc.]

#writing #academicwriting #firstyearwriting #wrt150 #rhetoric #composition #badwriting

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