I wish someone had sat me down in October and told me that the 15-page term paper for my archaeology class due in two months wasn’t the end of the world.
I finished high school feeling like I had decent mastery of the 3-page paper. Maybe even 4 pages. 5 if I was feeling particularly academic, but that was a stretch. As a first-year, however, I got my first term paper assignment: 15 pages on a mystery in archaeology. I figured, okay, this will be a lot easier if I pick something I’m actually interested in. I know, how about the fall of the Classic Maya? Bad idea. There’s a reason there are hundreds upon hundreds of books on this topic. I floundered, spending far too many hours in the library trying to work my way through the plethora of books and articles written about this mystery. Eventually I finished it. Definitely not the best paper I’ve ever written, but I did it.
The next semester, unsurprisingly, brought more term papers. But by this time I had started learning how to skim books and articles, using my resources more efficiently, and I’d had a lot more experience with the level of writing expected from me. Term papers were still stressful, but I never freaked out quite as much as I did with that first archaeology paper. By now, after four years at F&M, I’ve worked my way to a mastery of the 7 page paper, and I’d even say I have a good grasp of the 15 page term paper. I’ve written far more than I ever thought I could – just handed in my 71 page honors thesis – and what I’ve learned over four years is that I can do it.
I don’t think anyone enjoys their first term paper (or maybe any term paper, to be fair). But to all the first-years out there, I promise that term paper isn’t the end of the world.