When “Writing for the Professor” Becomes Problematic

The phrase “writing for the professor” gets thrown around a lot among students on college campuses – but what does this really entail? As students, we are concerned with our grades, and rightly so.  However, does this constant pursuit of a good grade have to compromise our own individual writing styles when we try to adhere to the particularities of what different professors “want”?

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In High School I was taught, as many of my peers were, that writing was both formulaic and standardized.  There was a particular way to write different papers, and in those papers the paragraphs were broken down into a set number of examples and pieces of evidence.  Although I was excited to find more freedom in college in terms of the writing curriculum, parameters still exist within the various departments about what is deemed an appropriate paper.  These parameters are there for a reason; they are meant as a framework through which students can analyze and interpret the texts appropriately.  However, I am not so much concerned with the differences in style, as I am in the tendency for students to alter a large part of their writing process for the sole purpose of achieving a desired grade.  I am definitely not guiltless in this; there have been numerous occasions when I wrote a paper that was geared toward my Professor, and consequently I had to sacrifice some aspects of my own style to achieve the end result.  But I think that the frequency that this occurs is problematic to students as well as to the institution of the college as a whole.  When students sacrifice their individuality and creativity supposedly to please the professor, both their academic and personal development as a writer is stymied.  In addition, this problem is exacerbated by professors who are unchanging in their approach to students’ writing abilities and various needs.  It becomes a cyclical process, and both the student and the professor emerge slightly disappointed.

Therefore, what I am proposing in this blog post are various tactics that students can use throughout the writing process that will hopefully allow them to find a happy medium between what the professor is looking for, and what the student feels is most important.  In order to start this process, a student can try a number of different things in order to make a paper seem more appealing – thus making the writing process as a whole a lot more likely to produce a paper that is not solely catered to the Professor’s expectations.

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  • Find an aspect of the prompt that you are really passionate about. This may seem obvious, but if you are able to find an aspect of the prompt or question that really interests you, writing the paper will not seem like an impossible task.  The best papers that I’ve wrote have been those that I found most interesting, and the Professor will certainly notice this passion and insight in your analysis.
  • Do more prep work. By doing a lot of prep work, whether that means gathering quotes or doing free writing, it will not only help you develop a better idea of what you want your paper to be, but it will also raise questions that you can then ask your professor.  If you are more prepared for a paper you will also feel less intimidated by the task ahead, thus allowing you to fully explore your ideas without feeling the time crunch.
  • Talk to the Professor. Having a running dialogue with your Professor is one of the most important things to do when you are confused or frustrated with a paper.  Although it may be intimidating or awkward to talk to certain professors at first, by going into their office hours and expressing your concerns the Professor more often than not will be understanding and try to meet you halfway.  In addition, the only way the Professor will know what you are struggling with is if you go in and talk to them – remember that they’re human too!                                                                                   tumblr_mhy7ovRyq51s4xdz1o1_500
  • Keep in mind the overall goal of your paper. If you establish an overarching goal for your paper at the beginning of the process, such as convincing your audience or illustrating a particular concept, it will be harder for you to stray from that goal when writing the paper.  Even though the style of the paper is different for each Professor, by articulating your ideas at the outset you are more likely to come back to that central idea if you become bogged down in the details.

These tactics, while they may not address the small order concerns of the Professor, will hopefully provide you with a few ways to get back on track when the paper seems to be getting the best of you.  Writing for the Professor can be tempting, but a continuation of this process only results in compromising your own process and development as a writer.  Even though it can be intimidating to trust in your own process, it will result in a learning experience that is invaluable in the long run.

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2 thoughts on “When “Writing for the Professor” Becomes Problematic

  1. While I understand this wasn’t the focus of your paper, I was hoping that you would have gone into more detail on exactly how students write for their professor and why they do it. I feel like students may write on a topic they know interests their professor, or choose an essay structure they know their professor likes.
    I have a friend who found a psychology class fairly easy because a professor gave out a writing guide at the beginning of the semester; my friend followed that very systematic writing guide to the letter and got an A on every paper.

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