Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rules Are Made to Be Broken, but Not the Little Annoying Ones

I'm really not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with the once-a-week thing I seem to be forcing on myself--especially as I should really currently be marking, writing a lecture, drawing four comics, and cleaning my apartment in anticipation of my parents' visit, which will coincide with my convocation this Friday (the 13th, of course)--but it's hot, and it's Saturday, and I feel like complaining about stuff.* Before I begin ripping into you, however, I have a few comments to make about Other Business:

1) I've been neglecting PFROD. It's admittedly kind of exhausting to maintain; however, I'll get back to it eventually. I've stuck a few entries at the bottom of this post, though you should note that these entries constitute only a tiny fraction of what I get every day.

2) If you haven't seen the comments on the last post, check them out. Two Instigators of Filthy Plagiarism have infiltrated the site, and I and a reader named Kyle have declared war on them. Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?**

3) I sometimes amuse myself by googling this blog's name and trying to figure out who has noticed it, mostly because I like it when people get funny ideas about it or, well, me. A case in point: the nice people at Blogged have filed KUMGEW under "Entertainment." What? Entertainment? Essay writing is not entertainment! It is deadly serious and can destroy you if you do it badly! Would it be entertaining if you started an essay with a quotation one too many times and your marker came after you with a hatchet? Would it be entertaining if you repeated your thesis statement word for word in your conclusion and inadvertently started a nuclear war?*** I. Think. Not.

As well, a StumbleUpon user has described KUMGEW as "hilarious, British, spicy, educational." Note the "educational" (not "entertaining"). "Hilarious" and "spicy" I'll give you (and thank you, sir), but it's the "British" that gets me here.

Blimey, mate...why do you think my blog is British? It's sodding Canadian, innit? Bloody hell. I go out of my way to project a bracing northern sort of character, and what do I get for it? Suddenly, I'm British! That's bollocks! Too right I've gone off my nut on this one. Give us some credit, will you, love? Cheers.****

Seriously, though: do I sound British? I don't mind sounding British, but do I? I don't sound British in real life.

4) KUMGEW is possibly the worst acronym ever. Well, oops.

Now that all that randomness is out of the way, I proudly present:

Stupid Essay-Writing Rules and Why You Should Follow Them

In my postwriting post, I spent a lot of time explaining in great detail the ten thousand important things you needed to do to your essay between the time you finished writing it and the time you handed it in. I neglected the ten thousand and first: after you have read for sense, content, form, spelling, flow, consistency, and logic, you also need to make sure you have followed the formal conventions that are keeping your markers from losing their brilliant but fragile minds.

You see, it is possible to grow tired of writing, "Underline or italicise titles of novels," in the margins over and over and over again. It is possible to come to loath the sight of the words, "Incorporate quotations into sentences of your own," "Use double quotation marks consistently; single quotation marks should appear internally only,"***** "Indent twice for block quotations," "Take block quotations all the way to the right margin," "Double-space block quotations," "READ UP ON THE RULES FOR BLOCK QUOTATIONS!", "No comma between author's name and page number," "No 'p.' before page number," "Use parenthetical citations, not footnotes," and, "Use footnotes, not endnotes." It is extremely possible to hate writing these comments so much that one will eventually, when faced with the prospect of an essay riddled with such errors, begin to cry.

Some of the comments above apply exclusively to MLA-formatted essays. Other styles involve other rules. The important thing is that you know which rules you are meant to be following, then follow them. Ignorance is no excuse. If you don't own a style guide, acquire one; if, for some reason, you can't acquire one, find one at the library or check out one of the many websites that cover these niggling little rules.

Why do I care? Am I anal? Well, yes, I kind of am. Do I hate you and want to mark up your essays in evil and unnecessary ways? No, I do not. I would prefer not to have to mark up your essays at all. I would love to receive papers so pristine and beautifully argued that all I could really do was swoon and award them "A+"s. I don't enjoy writing the same bloody comments thirty times in a row. I do it because I am trying to cure you of sloppiness, laziness, and a propensity to regard essays as busy-work.

You're not just learning to read, write, and argue; you're learning to present yourself and your ideas. If published authors aren't allowed to format their pieces any old how, you shouldn't be allowed to do so either. Following conventions is tedious, but it creates damned professional-looking essays. If you go on in academia and submit journal articles in which you haven't bothered to italicise titles--or, worse, if you are blithely italicising the wrong titles--editors may reject your work, no matter how brilliant it is. If you take an office job and demonstrate an unwillingness to stick to the formal rules necessary to reports and presentations, you may be branded as lazy, sloppy, or irresponsible. Sure, these rules are "petty." They're still rules. Make an effort to learn them; they are really not all that difficult to remember.

I won't claim the rules pertaining to titles are absolutely universal, but here are the ones I have always been taught to follow:

1) Underline or italicise titles of books, plays, long poems, or websites. Choose either underlining or italics; they mean the same thing. Underlining is a convention dating from the days of the typewriter. As typewriters could not italicise words, writers would have to use underlining as a sort of shorthand for italics. I would recommend sticking to italics in typed work, while underlining titles in in-class essays.

2) Put quotation marks around the titles of short stories, articles, short poems, web pages (belonging to larger websites), lectures, and unpublished books (such as dissertations).

If in doubt as to whether your professor subscribes to these rules, approach her and ask. With luck, she won't even bite your head off.******

The Filthy Plagiarists' Roll of Dishonour

Today's selections from FPROD are:

free discrition essay written by a student on myroom with a bay window

As I have said time and time again, why don't you simply walk into your room and describe it? It's your freaking room. Why do you need to steal someone else's description? Could it possibly be because you can't spell "description"? You are evil, and I hate you. I don't know whether or not I should be encouraged (or less angry) because after you found my blog, you actually spent the next fifteen minutes reading various bits of it. Have I shamed you out of being a Filthy Plagiarist? Please say yes.

How Do You Write An Essay About Aliens

It is possible that this person is simply looking for very specific instructions about how to write an essay that happens to be about aliens. It is also possible that I am British.

opinion essay example hobbit

Honestly...does anyone write an original essay on The Hobbit any more? The impression I get from FPROD is that there exists, somewhere on the Internet, one essay******* about The Hobbit, and everyone else is constantly stealing it and handing it in.

need good sentence in English describing a room

describing a room essay without telling a story

It is also my theory that all students asked to describe a room have been copying the same essay off the Internet and are thus describing the same room countless times for countless different markers. I'm tempted to write a really bad description of a room and post it online somewhere. If I did, I think the failure rate in English classes around the globe would probably go up.

sample narrative essay primates

A narrative essay is often simply a (true) story. You are going to steal a true story about primates? How? Are you going to claim that your name is Jane Goodall and that you have been living with the chimps?

My temple is throbbing, and I am continually beating back the urge to kill. That's probably enough for now.

Until next time, I remain,

Kem the Merciless
(beating up plagiarists since 2007)

*It's true that only the first two of these circumstances do not apply all the freaking time.
**I cite my sources. Those last three questions are lyrics from Les Miserables.
***It's possible.
****I am so, so sorry.
*****There: I just proved I wasn't British.
******Much.
*******To rule them all.

21 comments:

Kyle said...

Yes, I hear the people sing!
And I hear the distant drums!
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

Oh dear - what does it mean that I can recall these lyrics with such ease?

And I used to live in Toronto. I never once thought you were British. Your Canadianness shines through with the light of a thousand maple leaves, burning with anti-plagiarism fervor. (Or fervour.)

Francois said...

Meh, I've been mistaken for a New Zealander, and I sound like the effin' queen of England.
And incidentally, that little piece of mockney jiggery-pokery will be remembered if ever you set foot on This Sceptred Isle.
Glad you're posting again.

Kem said...

I did apologise in a footnote. However, to appease the Brits, who are lovely, I shall here append a parody of Canadian speech:

Nice weather we're havin', eh? Six whole degrees outside, and I haven't even seen any moose walkin' down Bloor Street. How's aboot them Maple Leafs, eh? That's beauty, the way they keep puttin' the puck in the net as I crack open my two-four and watch, eh? I was oot and aboot yesterday when some hoser tried to tell me the Canadiens were better, and I hit him over the head with a hockey stick and then went off to eat Nanaimo bars and Maple syrup in the Timmy's down the road. You goin' to be oot curlin' with us tomorrow? Beauty! We's all together again, eh?

When all's said and done, the mockney jiggery-pokery probably counts as slightly less annoying...eh?

Greg said...

Take off, eh?

I love this blog, KEM, count me on the barricade with you: the blood of the writers will water the URLs of cyberland.

Teramis said...

You, sir, are amazing. So glad I stumbled across your website. What a delightful read. I am sharing the url with many friends, and inflicting it some who need Clue.

Looking forward to future posts,

-Teramis

Deborah Teramis Christian
Novelist

Kem said...

Greg: Welcome to the barricades. Pick up your musket over by the stereotypically ragged revolutionary flag, and don't trip over the street urchins.

Teramis: Thank you very much. One note, however: I am not a "sir." I am a "madam," albeit not in the unsavoury sense. Huh...interesting conundrum. If a "madam" is a woman of dubious morality in charge of a group of sex workers and a "mistress" is a woman of dubious morality attached to a gentleman who is not her husband, what am I...chopped liver? Why have we taken many of the English words that refer to women and made them unavailable for general use? Why isn't a "sir" or a "master" a man of dubious morality who does...many dubious things? I hereby protest the English language.*

*Just, you know, in general.

Suzanne said...

As someone in law school, and on the law review editorial board (legal equivalent of academic journals), I can tell you that actually, plenty of published authors in law don't bother formatting their citations correctly. Particularly if they're famous and know they'll be published anyway. I can't begin to tell you the number of painfully bad footnotes that have to be edited out of the writings of Supreme Court Justices and Harvard academics. Nobody knows the difference between a hyphen and an em-dash, or the proper place to put a comma anymore. It drives me insane.

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Ac-smooth said...

Nobody knows the difference between a hyphen and an em-dash, or the appropriate place to put a comma anymore. It drives me insane. Why have we taken many of the English conditions that talk about women and designed them not available for typical use? Particularly if they're well-known and know they'll be launched anyway. I can't begin to tell you the wide range of shatteringly bad footnotes

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