It’s the beginning of the fall semester at school. During my first class in World History, the professor hands out the course syllabus on which appears that most daunting of assignments, a RESEARCH PAPER . . . a 15-page typed RESEARCH PAPER. . . formatted in MLA style . . . with a minimum of five academic references (no blog posts or Wikipedia entries) . . . due on the last day of the semester at high noon.
Intense dread pervades my entire body as I ponder this assignment. The longest paper I ever had to write before was ten pages, and I copied most of that from an old essay my sister wrote for an English class. Now, as I read the school’s policy on plagiarism found on the syllabus, I decide not to try that strategy again.
The professor mercifully dismisses class early. He must have known that we were all suffering from a little syllabus PTSD. Outside in the fresh air, I lament to one of my classmates about the research paper. She sniffs coldly as she casually comments, “No big deal. I had to write 20-page research papers in my honors courses last year”.
After feeling a bit deflated, I assertively challenge myself to the task. I WILL write this research paper, and it will be an excellent research paper. In fact, it will be the best research paper in the history of this school!
Fortified with a new sense of bravado, I read the rubric for the paper found in the course syllabus. No sweat! Then I reason I still have 16 weeks before the paper is due. The best strategy is to learn a bit about world history before I choose a paper topic. Of course, I dismiss my professor’s suggestions that we could be surveying our textbook for paper ideas now.
Kept busy with multiple extracurricular activities, a part-time job and an active social life, I take little notice of the weeks that pass — until my history professor announces that our paper is due in a mere four weeks. “That can’t be!” I exclaimed to myself, “I was certain I had more time.” However, a quick perusal of my planner revealed that not only was my research paper due in four weeks, but my other unfeeling professors also saddled me with their assignment deadlines that very same week, right before final exams!
As I quietly breathe through a mild panic attack, I resolve to cancel my social plans that weekend to hit those books. However, a nasty case of the flu renders me far too queasy to focus on my reading. As I grab a tissue and a swig of flu medicine, I calm myself with the assurance that Thanksgiving weekend is approaching, and I will have four full days to work on my research paper. I firmly proclaim, “This coming Thanksgiving weekend will be the most productive weekend in the history of my school!”
The Thanksgiving Challenge
On the day before Thanksgiving, I pick up my sister from the airport. Naturally, I forgot to bring my textbooks, so the three-hour wait in the airport is unproductive. No worries, I inform my family that I am too busy with schoolwork to help with Thanksgiving preparations. Of course, my sister reminds me that she also has school assignments as she prepares turkey stuffing and bakes pumpkin pies.
Paying no mind, I head into the basement where I will not be disturbed. I outline a study schedule that includes a one-hour break to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Mmmm. . .but the smell of that turkey keeps distracting me, as do the sounds of my relatives arriving. They all seem to be having so much fun, laughing, and indulging in my Mom’s delicious appetizers. After I read the same textbook page for the third time, I recognize the futility of my efforts, and I join my family in the festivities. As I plop down on the couch stuffed from all that turkey and pie, I rationalize that I am entitled to enjoy holidays. There are still three more days.
Early on Friday morning, I ignore my family’s discussion about bargain holiday shopping and head to the local library. After a few hours of productive reading, I pat myself on the back convinced that I will get most of this research paper done this weekend. Just then, I run into an old friend whom I haven’t seen for a couple of years. We start chatting, which leads to a movie followed by dinner. Late that evening, I assure myself that tomorrow’s plans to attend a football game shouldn’t derail my mission too much. I resolve that I will wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my paper – which I don’t do. Who would have guessed that a post-game traffic jam would delay me for over four hours? Exhausted, I plop into bed late that night.
On Sunday morning, the last day of my Thanksgiving break, I run to the local library again. Closed! I hadn’t counted on that. As I head to the basement at home, my sister informs me that her friend can’t drive her to the airport and asks if I would. I reluctantly agree because I don’t want to hear again how she cooked, baked and washed dishes on Thanksgiving Day while I did nothing to help. When I get home, my favorite holiday movie is on TV, so I sit down and watch. This next week will be the most productive week in the history of my school.
Major friend drama distracts me for several days early in the week requiring a cram session for a couple of quizzes at the end of the week. After my disappointing quiz performance on Friday, I realize with horror that my research paper is due on Monday at high noon. I only have 72 hours to complete it, and I haven’t even selected a topic yet! Of course, that doesn’t stop me from going to a party with my friends that night.
On Saturday morning, I ceremoniously open my textbook and decide whatever prominent topic appears on those pages will be the subject of my research paper. Okay, it will be The Fall of the Roman Empire. Armed with a topic, I recall that my history professor never said we couldn’t use our textbook as a reference. Now, I head to the school library to find two encyclopedias and two more textbooks containing information on the Fall of the Roman Empire.
Typing my textbook chapter verbatim (in quotes of course), I complete the first ten pages of the research paper. Whew! I hit the pillow on Saturday night very relieved. The next day, I utilize my other four references in a similar fashion. However, much of that content echoes what I have already written, so I must dig for new information. By Sunday night, I have completed 13 pages.
I manage to get up at 5 a.m. on Monday to finish my research paper. After exhausting all my references, I restate all the reference information in my own words and ditch the MLA formatting. But that only yields another three pages. So, I widen my page margins, and enlarge my font size, and restate my own words again. Finally, I get to the middle of the 15th page. “Close enough!” I proclaim. As I email my paper to my professor at 11:59 a.m., I resolve that my NEXT research paper will be the best in the history of this school.
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