”Don’t write a word unless you have something to contribute”

Skärmavbild 2014-04-18 kl. 11.16.02

Marc Bousquet, associate professor of English at Emory University, recently wrote a comment worth considering in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Keep the ‘Research,’ Ditch the ‘Paper’ 

The Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman stirred up some strong emotions in December with her essay  The End of the College Essay where she claimed that everybody—students and teachers alike—hate papers and ” we need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure”. Although her text could be considered semi-satirical many scholars became provoced of what they saw as a caustic attack on a cornerstone of higher education.

Marc Bousquet offers a reply which is a pleasure to read in its soft-spokenness.

My own take is that Schuman provoked a necessary conversation. [—] we do have to stop issuing the thoughtless writing assignments she describes.

Instead we need to construct meaningful opportunities for students to actually engage in research—to become modest but real contributors to the research on an actual question. When students write up the work they’ve actually performed, they create data and potential contributions to knowledge, contributions that can be digitally published or shared with a target community.

Bousquet ends by saying that we should ”react to Schuman’s provocation by accepting her challenge to stop wasting our students’ time, and our own. Let’s ask them to address real research questions, and to compose in the same wide range of media actually used by scholars and professional writers.” And, at the very end, comes a sentence that every scientist and scholar should put on their notice board:

After all, real researchers don’t write a word unless they have something to contribute.


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