A Generic College Paper

A Generic College Paper March 31, 2016

Ever since I came across the McSweeney’s piece “A Generic College Paper,” I have wondered whether showing it to students and talking about it would not help them.

It starts, like so many truly awful student papers, with “Since the beginning of time…”

Here’s an excerpt:

Utterly contrived topic sentence revealing pretty much every flaw of structured essay writing. Therefore, supporting sentence invoking source that exists only in the bibliographies of other cited material (pp. arbitrary to arbitrary + 5). Contemplative question? Definitive refutation paraphrased from a blog found at 2AM:

“Massive block text to lend legitimacy to this sorry endeavor.”

— Legitimate-sounding Anglo Saxon name (year between 1859 and 1967)

Obviously, non-sequitur segue. Utter misinterpretation of the only other author researched for this paper. Blind search for evidence reflecting increasing desperation (authors 4, 5, and 6).

For those who care, a warning before clicking through: the text includes a mild expletive. But it is worth it not just for the laugh, but for the discussion we might be able to have about whether it could be not just entertaining, but pedagogically useful.

What do you think?


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I’d hand it out to students. The only way it would look more like an actual college paper is if it were on note cards.

  • John MacDonald

    When I used to lead 1st year seminars in Philosophy as a graduate student, I would suggest to students that one good way to construct a thesis sentence is to start it with the word “although.” So for example, they could write “ALTHOUGH Hume makes some interesting arguments against ‘Causality,’ Kant offers a reasonable refutation of Hume’s arguments.” In this instance, the word “ALTHOUGH” ensures (1) the student has a proper thesis sentence in their paper, and (2) provides the structure of the paper itself (the first half of the paper explains Hume’s arguments, and the second half of the paper explains Kant’s counter arguments).

  • John MacDonald

    Other ideas could be to have (1) exemplar (model) student papers for the students to look at, so the students can see examples of an ‘A’ paper, a ‘B’ paper, a ‘C’ paper; (2) Share rubrics with the students that you will be using to grade their papers, so they will know what criteria they will have to meet in order to be successful (this also guards against subjective grading – e.g., this ‘looks like’ a ‘B’ paper.)

  • histrogeek

    I’m suing. Clearly they used my undergrad papers as a model, though they did update them to include web searches and blogs.

  • Grimlock

    Sure, that could be useful. But more so with context, or additional exercises. Such as, hmm, these?

    1) identify X types of errors in the paper.
    2) provide examples of each error.
    3) how to avoid these errors.
    4) what do to instead of these errors.

    Or is that too simple? I used to teach secondary, but I guess the average college student is slightly more independent and structured..?