We’ve all been there: it’s the night before your assignment is due, and you have a rough outline—or maybe only some notes—that you need to turn into a complete paper by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Your professor is going to grade whatever you manage to churn out tonight as a final draft, when it really should be considered a first draft (and a rather rushed one, at that).
We’ve all been here, too: it’s 1:00 p.m. and you’re working in the Writing Center. A student comes in to meet with you; her professor is requiring her to visit the Writing Center before turning in this assignment. You ask when the paper is due, and she tells you it’s due at 1:40 when the class starts. She has about five minutes after the appointment ends to edit the paper before turning it in.
In “Barbarians at the Gate,” Paul Hanstedt observes that “few professors require preliminary drafts, thus allowing students to ‘write’ papers the night—or even the hour—before they are due, and it’s no wonder that the work faculty receive in upper-level courses often isn’t as good as what composition instructors receive during the first year” (Hanstedt, et. al. 331). Similarly, Gary Hollis, a chemist who taught a first-year writing course, emphasizes that “Assignments must be structured to thwart the eleventh-hour approach to writing. . . . Most people are procrastinators” (Hanstedt, et. al. 340).
I strongly agree with Hanstedt and Hollis. I’ve helped many students who come in to the Writing Center as close as possible to the time they need to turn in their paper, and I’ve also had to write papers at the last minute myself. I hate procrastinating, but sometimes it’s necessary—such as when I have four final papers to write in one week. The sad truth is that I’m usually too busy to devote time to anything that doesn’t have a definite due date; unless a professor sets specific deadlines for the various stages of a paper, I probably won’t do more than outline until it’s time to write the final draft.
Because I know firsthand that even students with the best intentions find it difficult to set their own deadlines, I think it’s good practice for professors to guide the writing process at the undergraduate level. Several of my professors* set deadlines for thesis proposals and/or rough drafts. Sometimes these even involve an in-class peer review, a mandatory Writing Center appointment, or both. I used to think this approach crossed the line into micromanaging—shouldn’t college students be able to manage their own time?—but I now deeply appreciate it when a professor sets deadlines for more than one stage of the writing process. Having someone else review my work is particularly helpful, and I know that sometimes I wouldn’t be able to carve out the time for it if my professor didn’t require it.
What’s your take on procrastination and the writing process? Should it be the students’ responsibility to make time for multiple drafts and peer review? Or do you agree with Hanstedt and Hollis that professors should structure their assignments to prevent procrastination and to teach the writing process to students who may not have been asked to write in stages before? What can we as Writing Center tutors do to help students to manage their time effectively?
* All of these professors teach English rather than another discipline, which I find interesting—especially after our discussions about whose responsibility it is to teach writing.
Hanstedt, Paul, et. al. “Barbarians at the Gate: Professors from Outside the English Department Reflect on Teaching First-Year Writing.” Pedagogy 9.2 (Spring 2009): 331-36. Project Muse. Web. 21 Oct. 2011.