1. Choose a thesis that your professor/teacher cannot disprove, no matter how hard he or she tries. For example, take an inanimate object from the story and demonstrate how it is significant to the entire theme of the novel. You can also do this with a quote taken at random, or by proving that one of the main characters is gay. Stereotypes of gay behavior are so vague, that if the main character prefers the company of women to men, prefers the company of men to women, or is overly concerned about his appearance or reputation, your argument is already made. Remember that you can easily take the idea of machismo and translate it into homophobia. If all else fails, a lot of mileage can be gotten from Jesus imagery. Any nice guy character, even the triumphant ones, can be seen as a Jesus figure.

2. Now that your thesis is in place, inflate it with language and syntax. The glorious thing about the English language is that there are literally hundreds of ways to say the same thing. If you repeat yourself using different synonyms, you will take up more space in your paper and sound more intelligent. When you continue to vary your vocabulary, the length of your paper will increase and your ideas will look better. Using a wide variety of words has the disguising feature of making your writing sound important.

3. Use lots of foreign words, long words, adjectives and adverbs. When done properly, a sentence such as "Achilles hated Hector" can easily be expanded to "The noble warrior Achillies loathed his enemy, Hector of Troy." In subsequent sentences, replace "noble warrior" with "brave Greek fighter", "tragic figure", "rage-filled soldier", and so on. Obscure foreign words are aso useful, because you can use up an entire sentence just to explain them.

4. When adding words, pay attention to their sound and rhythm. This gets into the professor/teacher's unconcious, and they will give you a higher mark because they like the "poeticism" of your sentences. Alliteration is always a handy standby, as is subtle rhyme. Compare the sentence "The girl took off her pants", to "The sorority sister slithered out of her outfit." Notice the "sorority sister" alliteration, and the subtle repetition with "out of her outfit".

5. Use these word at LEAST once (but no more than 4 times) during your paper:

  • plethora
  • theme
  • persecuted
  • tone
  • injustice
  • diction
  • culture
  • ambiguous

Any other buzzword that your professor/teacher likes should be on this list as well.

6. Don't forget to put a title on your paper. The easiest way to create a title is to take a proverb, slang saying, or other witticism and make a parody of it. Such examples include:
"I am not a Crook: The Politics of Ancient Rome"
"I Have not Yet Begun to Write: The life of Edgar Allan Poe"
"Did Somebody Say McDonalds?: Why History Continues to Fight Land Wars in Asia"

1. I can't stress this enough: Symbolism is YOUR friend. The harder you look for it, the more you'll see. Symbolism can never be disproven, either, and English teachers will love that you "saw" the symbolism in a text.

2. Get a decent word processor. Why? THESAURUS feature. You can expand you lexicon at the same time you impress your instructor.

3. Identify your instructor. There's two kinds of English instructors: Those who are overly politically correct, and those who seek to offend. Figure out which one your instructor is, and write your paper accordingly. For P.C. instructors, write about how a given character oppressed the minority of the day. For offensive instructors, prove that a given character was right to oppress the minority of the day.

4. Use active voice. Say "The Greeks bitch-slapped the Trojans", instead of "The Trojans were bitch-slapped by the Greeks". Instructors HATE passive voice.

5. Write about a topic you already know something about. For example, I'm taking a class called Technical Presentations, and I'm doing my next presentation on IP subnetting.

6.Relate your topic to seemingly unrelated things. As your instructor is awed by your astounding leaps of logic and intuition, he/she will have to give you an A. After all, anyone who can link Zen to Quake Deathmatch must be deeper than he/she is.
Sockpuppet, I certainly hope no one took that seriously.
So far, no one's talked about structure, which is one of the most important aspects of essay-writing. I've always found that I do better on essays if I stick to a formal structure (the "This is what I'm going to tell you, now I'm telling it to you, this is what I just told you" structure). This structure is as follows:

1: Introduction: "This is what I'm going to tell you." Your thesis sentence should be either the first or last sentence in this paragraph. The rest should be made up of a brief and generalized description of the aspects of whatever you're writing about that are important to your thesis. You should also (this is the most important part) state ALL your points in a brief (one sentence) and general form here.

2...n+1: Points: "Now I'm telling it to you." Always decide what points you're going to bring up to support your thesis BEFORE you start writing. I recommend that n = words / 500, where words is the number of words in your essay. n shouldn't be less than 2, and going over 5 or 6 points might be pushing it. Don't forget to start each of these paragraphs with a topic sentence and end it with something that leads into the next paragraph. Flow is important. Always use two examples if you can; three if you're trying to squeeze a few extra words into your essay, one if you can only find one (if you can't find any, your point isn't valid).

n+2: Conclusion: "This is what I just told you." Repeat your points once more, just as you did in the introduction; one sentence each (but I don't have to tell you not to use the SAME sentences as in your intro). Then state your thesis again, but in a final sort of way, as if you've proved something beyond any doubt. But don't use the words "in conclusion" here. Many instructors hate that.

One other important point about formal essay-writing: never use the first or second person! Writing only in the third person makes you sound intelligent (as well as satisfying old-school instructors who prefer very formal essays). Instead of saying "Therefore, I think ," write "From this, it is possible to conclude ," or "One can only assume that ." Definitely don't use "you." In fact, don't refer to your reader at all.

I'm sorry, but I just can't leave this one alone.

Another strategy: you could learn to write well, and forget all of the dubious advice you've seen above about how to "fake it". Yes, I am aware that SoberSephiroth is in heavy ironic mode (at least I hope he is). Just in case anybody missed this, here it is for the record: none of the above will work if the person grading your paper knows how to write. If you taking an English course at a decent university, the odds are that this is the case. At the first sign that the above techniques are working, you should drop the course as soon as possible, because (a) your professor is an idiot, or (b) said professor is too busy with his or her research to be paying attention to what you're writing, or (worse) is farming out the grading to harried grad students who have no time and don't care.

My seminal experience in learning to write well was in English 201, part one of a 2-course requirement for potential English majors. The professor was a protégé of Paul de Man, and was (as one might expect) extremely tough on the written word. Papers would come back marked up everywhere, using most of the available margin real estate, and with your argument torn to bits in a handwritten page of commentary on the back. None of this was done in a malicious or holier-than-thou way, but rather as intense, constructive feedback. On a few papers I think he wrote more than I did. What he was doing, I realized after the fact, was trying to teach us to write at an academic level. Trying to help us eliminate, in other words, any last vestiges of the bullshit techniques enumerated in the above writeups. Techniques that irresponsible secondary school teachers would sometimes reinforce and encourage by rewarding them with A's.

This professor also believed in writing as a process, so students were encouraged to submit multiple drafts. One day I got a draft back for a paper on an Andrew Marvell poem where he had eliminated an entire paragraph (or was it two?). Just crossed them out. They were valid points, but they weren't germane to the argument, so they were sent packing. Nobody had ever done that to something I'd written before. As they say in the Zen parables: at that moment, I was enlightened.

Another anecdote: as part of the same English program, I took a course taught by Toni Morrison. At one point she told us a story about the process of writing Beloved. She sat down and plugged away at the first chapter, and after a week she has fifteen pages of good material. Then she worked on it for another week, and the fifteen pages become ten. Then eight, then five. The more she worked, the smaller (albeit better) it became. She found this to be a bit distressing, but a friend consoled her: "look at it this way, in a few months you'll have the perfect opening sentence."

Good (expository) writing isn't about flowery language, the inflation of phrases with excess verbiage or the pursuit of banal tropes. It's about communicating good, complex ideas well using the written word. For most writers, even internationally-recognized Nobel-Prize-winning great writers, it is as much about paring, editing, clarifying and throwing out as it is about thinking and producing. The reason you avoid the passive voice, for example, is not because English professors have a strange fetish for the active one; it's because "The English major composed the writeup" is less cumbersome and easier to understand than "The writeup was composed by the person whose chosen major was English".

"Choose a thesis that your professor/teacher cannot disprove" "Symbolism can never be disproven, either"

You have an idea, and you support that idea with rhetoric and examples. I can't "prove" to you that Hamlet's inaction is rooted in his feelings for his mother or that Clarissa Dalloway is lost in a world of evolving modern social structures or even that Ahab is monomaniacal. I can only make an argument and then mine the text for bits that support that argument. If you intentionally choose to argue something that is "unprovable" because it has no basis in the text then you are most likely just running around in verbal circles spouting gibberish, and your grade should reflect that. If it doesn't then you should hurry up and get another English teacher, because you're not learning a thing.

1. The Thesis
The thesis should state the subject and something of significance which you wish to say about it. This is your thesis. It can be stated at the beginning, middle, or end of the first paragraph of your essay. As it is the focus of your essay, it must be planned well in your first paragraph: in it you must state it in a clear and engaging way.

2. Rules to Follow in the First Paragraph
State your subject in the first paragraph. If your are discussing one or two works, include the title, author and genre (TAG) of each specific work.
Devote the first paragraph to an identification or definition of the subject, or a synopsis of the material to be covered in your body paragraphs.

3. Consistency of Content
The body of your essay must support your thesis statement. Focussing on this idea is crucial to the development of a good essay. Make sure you do not stray from the topic, otherwise your essay will lose its focus.
The thesis should not be stated only once in your essay. In order to keep your writing unified, you should mention your subject several times throughout the essay. This also helps keep the reader on track and not confused with some of your arguments. Mention your subject at least once per page, either straight forwardly or obliquely. If you cannot easily work a reference to the subject, then you have probably wandered off the topic.
Make sure every paragraph in your writing relates directly or indirectly to your thesis.
Do not digress from your subject and thesis with paragraphs.
If the body of your essay does not clearly develop and prove your thesis then you must edit either your body paragraphs or your thesis paragraph so that it does.

4. Conclusion
A good ending cannot salvage a good composition; however, a poor ending can destroy a good composition. Therefore, the conclusion must be planned carefully. It should grow naturally out of the points you make in the body, reflecting your understanding of the subject. It should NEVER introduce a new idea which changes the complexion of the paper. It should summarize or conclude without repetitions.

Perhaps this write-up leans more towards writing a good paper than getting an A, and we're certainly outside the realm of minimum effort.  That's how this node is leaning, so here we go:
  1. The quality of your argument matters.  Papers always require you to demonstrate your reasoning and critical ability, regardless of the assignment.  Watch out for logical fallacies -- comp teachers can spot an ad hominem attack or post hoc, ergo propter hoc slip from orbit.  Logic and critical thinking skills are good things to have, so if you haven't had any formal training, you might want to read around.  It's a lot of work, but well worth it.

  2. Style, spelling, and grammar matter more than you think.  No matter how good your argument is, if your presentation makes you look like a moron you will do poorly.  Papers are formal, which means that lots of liberties (like the ones I'm taking in this node with tone, word choice, parenthetical comments, and informal style) are no-nos.  If you aren't sure on a style point (like, for example, comma use in a series), decide what you're going to do and be consistent through the entire paper.  The reason you want to be so careful with these things is that teachers have to read incredible amounts of student writing.  For every paper they assign, they have to do more work than you.  Sure, it may be painful to write a ten page paper, but grading twenty five of them is much worse.  Trust me on this.  And since most of the papers they have to grade and comment on will have terrible grammar and spelling, they will be very happy when they come across a paper where they don't have to redpen every other line.  They will view that paper as a relief, and they will treat it kindly.  Sure, you'll get a better grade, but more importantly you will get better feedback.  If they don't have to correct your it's vs. its, they can spend time giving you real suggestions.  They will be more likely to respect you and your opinions.

  3. Corollary to #2: Microsoft Word does not know the English language for shit.  Trust its grammar checker at extreme risk.  Computers are lousy at processing natural language.  There is no substitute for your own head.

  4. Starting the actual writing the night before is fine.  It gives you inspiration through terror.  The bigger the paper, the bigger the inspiration.  That's a nice, healthy direct relationship.  It is your friend.

  5. Starting in general the night before is usually not fine.  Writing is the least of the work -- all that pesky research and thinking about your subject is what takes the time.  If you get your information together before you start writing and spend a couple of days mulling it over -- in line at the cafeteria or bank, in the shower, whenever you have a spare second -- the actual writing process won't be nearly as painful.

  6. Forget all that garbage they told you in highschool comp about prewriting -- all that brainstorming, outlining, rough-drafting noise.  Most likely that method doesn't work for you and going through all these steps just results in dragging the paper-writing process out until your brain dies.  Remember, these are the folks who insist that the scientific method has a zillion steps when really there are just two.  The point here is, you want to pare down the process into its least complicated form that still works for you.  If outlines don't help you, the hell with them.  They'll only slow you down.  Hatred of what you're doing is your biggest enemy here, so do your best to avoid it.

  7. Revision often means cutting.  Do not be afraid to let your words go.  If it doesn't belong, kill it.  Do not leave it there simply because you wrote it.  That's padding, and any good teacher will redpen you raw.

  8. The five paragraph essay is not the only form in the world.  The reason they push it so much in beginning comp is that it's a pedagogically useful exercise for beginning writers.  Once you start writing more complex papers (read as: anything you write at university) this form won't be sufficient for what you need to do.

  9. Do not ask, "How long does it have to be?"  This will make your teacher hate you.  If they don't tell you, the answer is, "Long enough."  Figuring out what that means is part of the assignment.

  10. Do not dispute due dates.  This will also make your teacher hate you.

  11. Do not quibble with the assignment, especially not in front of the class.  If you have concerns or want to do something different, grab your teacher after class or during office hours and present your careful, reasoned argument.  Generally assignments are built for a reason, so be prepared to accept it if they reject your proposal.  If you have real problems with an assignment, write something different and accept the consequences.  If you aren't willing to take this gamble, chances are you didn't have a real problem with the assignment.  Often teachers like it when you take little liberties -- it shows you're thinking for yourself and have some confidence in your writing.

  12. When you are done writing you will be unable to do a final proofreading.  Have somebody else do it.  Thank them profusely since what they just did for you was extremely nice.

About half of the previous writeups on this subject are arguments over how to write a "fake" paper versus how to write a quality paper. Whatever the case, the subject is "How to write an 'A' paper with minimal effort", not "How to write an 'A' paper with bullshit" nor is it "How to write an 'A' paper that really is an 'A' paper".

On that note, so begins my story...

During my fourth year in a B. Com program at University X, I had the opportunity to work in a group paper/presentation for a Strategic Management course. Our assignment was to produce a Management Consultation document for any company in the local area.

Side Note: At the time, I had viewed Management Consulting as that great mystery of the consulting world...if a manager needed to hire a big-dollar consultant to tell him/her what the problem was and how to solve it, what kind of a manager is he/she? The pointy-haired kind, I suppose. But I digress...

One member of our group mentioned that he was very interested in a local company that worked on VPN solutions so we decided to go with that. This member (we'll call him Bob) contacted the company and was transferred to an appropriate manager (whom we'll call Jack), with whom he had a meeting set up to discuss the project at hand.

The conversation went something like this...

Bob: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. As you know, I'm a student at the Faculty of Administration at University X. I'm part of a group that is working on a project to produce a Management Consultation report for a given company. We're told that such consultations usually run in the tens of thousands of dollars when it's being done by a professional firm. We're doing it for free as part of this project and would love to work together with you and your company on this. Now, I've got a list of questions that I'd like to go over...

Jack: Don't bother. Here's a report that we commissioned from KPMG a month ago for $50,000. You can have it to do with as you please.

Bob: (stammering) Uh...um...I don't know what to say.

Jack: Just say thanks and try to avoid getting in trouble.

So Bob did. When he came back and told us what had happened, we were flabbergasted. We had just been handed a professional report by a manager at Company X who had basically told us to use it for our project...and he had no qualms at all about it. Students need to find more managers like that.

Needless to say, we did quite well on the project.

The moral of the story? The best way to write an "A" paper with minimal effort is to get a professional to do it for you.

Simply put, you plagiarize.

(Borrowed from insanecats.com)

  1. Choose a topic that is as distant from your subject as you can get. If your TA knows less abou it, it will take less to impress them. In this case, since I have to write an essay on Mesopotamia, I'm doing Babylonian mathematics.
  2. Look up on google the keywords of your topic plus 'edu'. This way, you'll get a huge group of sources with domain names .edu . What's the advantage? You're almost guarenteed that they will be journals, articles, and other published information or things written by quotable sources.
  3. Record and print. Copy down every single URL that seems related even distantly (or save in some kind of Bookmarks folder) and print the entire webpages on scrap paper. If you found enough information, you should be printing between 30 and 50 pages.
  4. Read and star. Read everything you printed, and draw big pink stars (yes, they have to be big pink stars, because if you're me, that's the only kind of marker you can find in your messy, messy room) next to any paragraph that you can use in your topic. This also includes pictures and diagrams you want to use. About one third to one quarter of every page should be starred, for appropriate ratios.
  5. Cut. Cut out everything that you starred during the previous step. This can be done (and is recommended to be done) while listening to the Simpsons on in the background.
  6. Pre-footnoterize. On the back of every scrap of paper that you cut out, write a number corresponding to the webpage that you got it from.
  7. Sort and divide. By now you should have an idea of a few main topics. For example, I had 'zero', 'the number system', 'why base 60?', 'problem solving', 'pi, e, square roots and other new math concepts'. Go through each scrap of paper and put it in the appropriate pile.
  8. Order. Choose one pile. Then lay out all of the bits of paper for that pile and put them in an order that makes sense. Repeat for all the rest of the piles.
  9. Type and paraphrase. Don't copy what each piece of paper says, but rather write it in your own words, occationally adding sentences in order to make the various pieces of paper flow better together.
  10. Introduction and conclusion. These are the easiest things to write. For history papers, your thesis will be: my topic played an important part in influencing relevant time frame.
  11. Footnote. This should be one of the easiest task since cutting. Since all of your pieces of paper have the relevant sources on the back, just flip everything over and footnote accordingly.

Ta-da! Instant essay!

A recent study by a British group heard on NPR showed that

(1) essay grades are very subjective. (Of course.)

(2) grades correlate primarily with style, not content.

The brilliant college freshman who writes his heart out in the first person will get a lower grade than the dimwitted sophomore who has nevertheless mastered the art of the academic writing style.

Some basic techniques might be to use the passive voice, familiarize yourself with the jargon of your field, avoid mention of yourself (especially in the first person), and generally wring out your writing until it is as dry as possible. Never address the reader as "you" in your paper--in fact, don't address them at all. Just state facts. Eliminating the personal is key; the more you show of yourself the more vulnerable you are to attack. This alone, no matter how bad your thesis, will increase your chances of getting an A.

As a former Graduate Assistant in political science I can tell you that none of the above bullshit techniques actually work. At least if you want an 'A'. Term papers can cover a lot of ground, but it's my subject and I'm serious about it. I know more than my students. I have to.

Term papers are not 'make work' assignments. They're teaching tools, and the goal is to teach you to both research and write. Useful skills in many types of business, and necessary if you aspire to management. The paper is designed take you deeper into some portion of the subject, and hopefully will excite you about your subject. I want you to learn, to think in a disciplined manner, and your writing is expected to show that.

If you give me that, you'll pass. Your professor does not want to flunk you, unless you're in one of those 'weeder' courses designed to eliminate majors who aren't serious. Before you can become an instructor, you have to demonstrate mastery of your subject across the board. Academics usually know bullshit when we see it, and will tolerate a little if combined with some real content. So you can bullshit you're way to a 'C' or 'B' with some effort, but not an 'A'.

The 'A's' go to people who show a real mastery of the material and serious intent. The possession of an 'A' paper is not necessarily enough. Remember, your instructor has graded a couple of your mid-terms already, and they've engaged you in class. If a guy who comes off like an Adam Sandler character shows up with something totally awesome, it smells. If time permits, your instructor will attempt to figure out where it came from, and he or she is usually better at research than you. Probably I wouldn't have been able to find the source of owlman's report, but web sites offering papers are known in the academic world. We have the same CD ROMs as you. Be careful before you copy.

I know this isn't always popular, but the purpose of education is not a piece of paper, but an education. Do good work, take your assignments seriously, and you will end up knowing a lot more than you did before. Knowledge can never be taken away. Bullshit research is what led investment brokers to buy Enron right up until the collapse. You need to know how to do this right.

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