September 23rd, 2007

was sleeping

Bulls, bears, and four-page papers

I was talking with one of my dormmates today over lunch about how we write papers. The school of thought that I subscribe to about the topic I would describe as "bull": I would rather make my first paper mediocre. That way I test the teacher's BS detector. After all, if s/he can't detect BS, there's no reason to work hard to write good papers for the whole semester. "If I make the first paper really good, then the teacher will know that I'm slacking off later in the semester," I said.

She actually subscribed to the opposite school, the "bear" type. She would rather spend more energy to make sure that the first paper is particularly well-reasoned and well-written. Her thought is that if you're sloppy about something in your first paper, say run-on sentences, the teacher is going to be particularly picky about that thing and read your papers very closely for it for the whole semester. But if your first paper is absolutely flawless, then the teacher will know that you understand things and will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt later in the semester when you start slacking off.

And now that things are explained that way, I can see how the "bear" school is kind of more natural-- I've actually done it myself many times now that I think about it. I remember one course where I went as all-out as it was possible to go for the first paper, reading all of the sources as closely as I was able to and organizing my arguments very carefully. But for the other two papers (and attendance was not a major factor in the grading of that course) I wrote fluff, and I even skipped class more times than I would have liked to. I remember feeling kind of disappointed when I got an A in it.

More importantly, it's absolutely natural to start a semester feeling all gung-ho about whatever the course is about, then get more burnt-out as the semester goes on. "Teachers recognize this, and are likely to be more leniant in the last third of the semester or so," she said. It's also kind of more honest not to try to write a flimsier paper than you're capable of.

Which school of thought do you subscribe to? Teachers, do you recognize these patterns? Or am I just really overthinking everything?