The Lazy Scholar's Guide to Writing A Term Paper

by Claire E. White
The Internet Writing Journal, February 1998

The Lazy Scholar's Guide to Writing A Term Paper By The Lazy Scholar

Author's Note: This information is not for the hardened stack hound known as the "graduate student."

That glassy-eyed stare, battered knapsack and air of being above and beyond mere mortal concerns is not you. You, the freshman student at the great university, are still a normal, sensible person just trying to fill in all the squares of your program as worked out by you and your freshman or sophomore adviser. Life is good and the world outside awaits your arrival, degree in hand and eyes focused on the future. You are just taking a few years off to go through the formalities of a formal education. While your social life is paramount, you still want to make sure that your grades are respectable, and you do not want any more stress than is absolutely necessary.

So here you are attending class on a regular basis, reading assignments and waiting for the Friday quiz. This has not occurred yet. Then your instructor drops the bomb. Fifty percent of your grade this term will be based on a research paper. Some clown asks how long the paper has to be and is answered with the classic "long enough to thoroughly discuss the subject." Another anxious type inquires about the subject. You will probably get lucky and be given a list of suitable subjects. Yes, this is lucky. Wait until you have to generate your own thesis and you'll understand what real anxiety is.

Now let's return to your problem. You have to pick a subject for a research paper from a list of subjects about which you know little and care less about. What should a sophisticated student do? Well there is a solution. The Lazy Scholar is at your service. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, the The Lazy Scholar cast about wondering what to do, when a friend happened to mention the fact that he knew a character who was working his was through the university writing papers for young gentlemen who had pressing social responsibilities and a moderate amount of cash. The friend offered to introduce the Lazy Scholar to this disgusting creature, and the Lazy Scholar found himself intrigued by the prospect. A phone call was made and the meeting was to take place in an off campus cafe known for not being a place where any well-connected person would be found. But the coffee, while not good, was cheap, and since one had to serve oneself, there would be no waitress to bother one's train of thought.

The Lazy Scholar, who was and still is an optimist, wandered into the cafe and met a young man who was tall and not bad looking. He had a wry smile and a condescending attitude towards his clientele. "I like to do research," he stated. "I find out a lot of things I didn't know before, and it sure beats standing up and waiting tables like a lot of people have to do to work their way through college. "

"But isn't this a little dishonest?" asked the Scholar. The Scholar was in a state of shock, feeling that he had seen the face of Evil and being aghast to find out that it looked just like every other face on campus. "I didn't make them dishonest," said the young man. "They were already that way when they came looking for me."

The Scholar decided that he was getting into a moral minefield and decided to stay focused. "You must work awfully hard," he said.

"Not at all," replied the young man. "You just have to follow a logical system. "I'll teach it to you and you'll do just fine." "What's the subject that you need to write about?" he queried. "Ah," thought the Scholar, "there's nothing illegal here if, I just learn the method and write the paper myself using his techniques." An hour and a half later the Scholar left the small café in a confident mood. The Scholar had learned the first steps in writing which he has refined over the years into a workable plan of attack on any subject.

The first thing that you must do after receiving The Assignment is to make certain the parameters of the research are well-defined. This will be different for each subject. An assignment from the Department of English will be a little different from the one from the Department of History. Some assignments will have you comparing writing styles while others will have you looking for the latest studies on human behavior. Nevertheless, all research papers have a common purpose of giving you the responsibility for finding the latest information and presenting it in a logical way. This is what is facing you and making you feel a vague sense of dread. Take it easy. The Lazy Scholar is here to show the way to writing success with the least effort and greatest enjoyment.

First, go to the nearest Mega Office Store and find colored index cards and a package of large rubber bands. Buy at least three packs of lined colored cards. The 4x6 inch size is best because it gives you more space to write, and since a lot of your notes will be in longhand, size will be a factor. Another good purchase is some very small sticky notes which can mark pages without damaging the book or document. Now you need to find a large shoe box or other box that will fit your cards. Don't think about your subject yet and do not look at latest war game for your PC on the sale rack.

Now, armed with the basic equipment, go to the library computer monitor and find the most general book on your subject that you can possibly find. Note here that you want to make sure that your subject has a great many entries. Do not try to be a hero (this year) by doing research on a subject that not even scholars are writing about. You can save that one for your dissertation one day. Check out the book and immediately walk across campus to the nearest coffee shop. No! Not the one where all the fun people are. Go to the one that has all the people no one ever talks to hang out. You know which one it is. The people that mutter to themselves about politics and/or actually read poetry are the people that you want to be around just now. You will not even want to start up a conversation. Get your coffee and start looking at the Table of Contents, which is the outline for the entire book. Now, start dipping into the book and be sure to write down any questions that come to mind on a large legal pad. Almost like magic a plan of attack will begin to form. You may change your game plan later, but at least you have one and the afternoon is still young. Read several paragraphs in each section of your book until you put yourself to sleep. Tomorrow morning you will have an even more refined game plan. You will have spent your sleeping hours letting the right side of your brain do the creative side of your work. A good working relationship with the right side of his brain is one of a lazy scholar's best secret weapons. Getting one's brain in a knot by thinking and thinking for hours on end will send you nowhere except to the medicine cabinet for headache relief.

The Lazy Scholar feels very strongly that worrying is a tremendous waste of time and that action is the only rational reaction to something that one absolutely must get done.

Now that something is beginning to form in your mind regarding the heretofore amorphous and formless subject, you now need to go to the best bookstore in town and purchase a style manual. Any guide put out by the MLA will fill the need very efficiently. For those who have not been in the writing game for much longer than Fall Registration, MLA stands for the Modern Language Association and anything put out by them is considered as gospel by your faculty. This little guide will be your constant four-year companion as you chart your course through the maze of higher learning and it will save you countless hours. In a recent foray through a huge book store the Lazy Scholar found the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 4th edition by Joseph Gibaldi to be an excellent tool. Another reference book that you will need is one that not only shows you how to do research on the Internet, but how to document what you have used so that you will appear to be a competent researcher to your instructor. The other excellent prize that the Lazy Scholar found on his excellent quest was aptly named The Research Paper and The World Wide Web by Dawn Rodrigues. You may feel that you are King of the Internet, but The Lazy Scholar presumes that you just may not be as efficient at sound Internet research as you could be. This excellent little guide not only has a well organized approach to the subject, but also offers you a web address for further help. An arsenal of good reference books will save any lazy scholar countless inefficient mistakes and supply him with more of his desired leisure time.

The most important rule the Lazy Scholar insists on is: Get Started Early. Inefficient people work far more hours than focused, efficient people. People who worry rather than work always spend all their good time in various modes of misery and despair. This leaves very little time for recreation and rest.

Now, come back to your legal pad with its large, scrawled outline and take out your colored cards. Assign a different color to each section of your general outline. Write the general subject of each section of your outline plan at the top of your colored card. Then when you find a piece of information on that subject in the stack of books you have checked out, you can quote the passage, note down your source, (page number, call number, web address, etc.). You already know where you are going to insert this little nugget of scholarly information. And you can also give a sardonic smile at all those pathetic, unimaginative people struggling with little white cards that are so easy to misfile. You are certain that pink cards are going to be about the early whatever of your subject, and filing will be a breeze. Automatically as you read, you will be noting where in your outline this particular piece of information belongs.

The next ironclad rule of the Lazy Scholar is that you never check out a book without noting all the bibliographical information plus the call number on a separate card. You may use white cards for this little chore, and remember to use only one card for each information source. You can write all sorts of information about each particular source on the card, but never put more than one source on each card. Then when the time comes, you can alphabetize your cards very easily for your bibliography. If you have a good memory for picky little details, memorize the MLA form for each type of reference and put it down in correct form. This saves a great deal of time and stress.

Now you are finally ready to get started. Pick up the books you have checked out (one on the history of the subject and one that chronicles what everyone has always thought about the subject). Go somewhere that is quiet, not too comfortable and far from anyone with which you could be tempted to hold any kind of conversation. Skim the books. Now, go back and read more in depth, taking notes as you go along.

Next you need to find a highly intelligent person to talk over your subject with and give you some feedback. Persons to avoid in this encounter are present love interests, guys you play basketball with, your Mother and your best friend. Seek out intelligent, unappreciated types who actually may become excellent friends. You at least owe them a cup of coffee or better for listening to your amateur expertise. Whatever you do, don't let this person feel used. After all other students have been doing this to him since sixth grade, and he can recognize a user after the first paragraph you utter.

The most important rule that a lazy scholar must follow, if he wants a superior grade, is that you simply cannot write a research paper on any subject until you first become an expert on that subject. Every sentence you write will sound fake, and you will be suspected of stringing together pirated phrases from a variety of texts into an indigestible stew of verbal nonsense. This little peccadillo has an ancient and evil history, but most writers simply call it by its modern name: plagiarism. Writing can come only after knowledge, so choose your subject with a view towards having a little diversion while researching.

When you feel that you are ready to write, begin with the second paragraph. That's right. Just like being at the pool on a hot day in summer, plunge right in. The shock will be terrible, but you will come up for air. The best rule for writing when you are new to the game is to write the main body of your work, then write the conclusion and introduction last. The title is one of the most unimportant parts of your work until you become a more professional writer. Write at a regular time every day, or night until you have arrived at about 2,000 words. What? You feel as if you are writing and raving at the same time? No one will want to read this stuff? (Well, chuckles the Lazy Scholar, your instructor and your typist have to.) Just keep writing and writing, flipping through all your cards according to color. Tell your reader that Dr. Hassenpffeffer says this while Prof. Schnitzle points out that this could not possibly be the case for these enumerated reasons. Point out that the Society for Sane Senility is conducting a study to prove that every one is racing in the wrong direction and if they don't stop will be accused of circular thought. Etc., Etc. Put it all down. This is no time to stop. Pound those keys . Night after night, at the same time do your time in purgatory at the keyboard. Then one night you will find that you have gone through every color of card and have said it all. Take a good walk and enjoy the feeling. But don't walk too long, or you will lose your fighting edge. Remember what they say at football games. It's not over until it's over.

Write and type your bibliography, using the style decreed by the MLA. It's torture, but it must be done. Now don't forget one important principle; it is better to over document than to have to go back. Besides, it's intimidating to your readers. No one will probably think to question a well-documented bibliography. This is especially a caveat to the Internet researcher. Your first reader, your instructor, may feel that checking out one of your references on the Internet will show how excellent your scholarship is. Fail this check and you cast a small mushroom shaped cloud over the remainder of your careful searches.

Now that everything is in some kind of readable form, you must seek out a special person. Your duty now is to find the most critical person you know and ask him or her to read your work. This is going to be painful, so steel yourself. Reward this person with copious thanks, praise and other things, and then leave as he sits there in a confused state. Cool off. Then read with a critical eye. Your best critic is not your best admirer.

Now make corrections and then set your work aside. Like pastry dough, it needs to rest and so do you. Wait as long as possible, and then read your work as if some stranger had written it. Sound pretty good? Excellent. Now you are off to the typist who very well may be that delightful creature that you have been dating. Reward this person well. You could go get his or her oil changed and the tires rotated. Do whatever will produce a happy and accurate typist. Turn in your paper on time, but not ahead of time. This will protect you from having your opus misfiled. If you don't believe the Lazy Scholar, peek through the open doors of university faculty members' offices. Now go out for some well-deserved recreation.


**The Lazy Scholar spent eight months researching a suitably obscure yet fascinating topic for a Masters Thesis at a major university. Research was done nightly between the hours l0:30 p.m. and l:00 a.m. Research books were checked out on Saturdays, microfilm was ordered from various sources and other materials were discovered at various times. The Lazy Scholar then began the actual writing of his thesis. He worked every evening on the same schedule and completed it in only two weeks. The manuscript was sent to the typist, and then to the Lazy Scholar's committee. This august body, known for its terrorization of lowly graduate students, pronounced it excellent and asked for no corrections. The Lazy Scholar considers this to be the highest commendation possible, and that nothing further needs to be said.




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