At the Student Gathering: Writing an Academic Paper

Posted on May 14, 2013

Fountain House's Supported Education program was recently recognized by the National Council of Community Behavioral Healthcare with their Award of Excellence. One component of this successful initiative is a monthly student gathering, which provides a forum for students to share information and support each other.

Writer and student Melissa Hollander Writer and student Melissa HollanderEach month the Education Unit hosts a monthly student gathering, which is a time for current and future students to come together and offer support to each other. We discuss topics such as using the resources in college accessibility offices, time management, and how to overcome the anxiety of talking to professors; a common theme is advocacy. How can you empower yourself to get what you need?

While we were in the brainstorming/planning phase of the gathering, I brought up an idea that piqued people’s interest: how to write an academic paper. I thought that it would be helpful, as quite a few members are in college or aspire to attend in the future. I got the “go-ahead” and started working on creating a PowerPoint presentation, which involved several components.

First, I discussed the importance of getting specific directions for the assignment. The professor might give you a handout about the assignment, but more than likely the information will be found in the syllabus. A syllabus is basically a guide to the class, which lists the professor’s office hours, grading policies, and the class schedule/assignment due dates; you might also see “syllabus subject to change” towards the end of the document. This is because there might be a snowstorm, other natural disaster, or a day when the professor can’t be in class. As a result, assignment due dates might be pushed back, but always be prepared. By the time that you’re a junior or senior in college, the phrase “I didn’t know” uttered by some students will guarantee a professor’s response of “Not my problem.” Some professors will be nice and include a grading rubric along with the paper’s directions found on the syllabus; this will break down evaluation into different categories.

I also discussed how the library can assist you in the paper-writing process. At my school, the library staff regularly holds workshops on Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) citations, give tutorials on accessing databases that contain scholarly journal articles, and help students navigate various resources. To expand a little on MLA and APA citations, there are specific academic fields for the two categories; for English and humanities courses, MLA is the preferred method for referencing your sources. Conversely, if you’re attending a college that focuses on math or natural and social sciences, you will be using the “gold standard” known as APA.

Following this brief overview, I turned to the serious matter of plagiarism. Many times, college students think that they can “get over” on their professors and just slip somebody else’s words into a paper - and they couldn’t be more wrong. From what I understand, some colleges subscribe to websites such as Safe Assign and, and if a professor suspects that their students’ work might not be genuine, they can view statistics that indicate the likelihood of a student “copying-and-pasting” their work. This means that the student will have stolen other work and claimed it as his or her own. I understand that college is stressful and the temptation to “borrow” other sources may sound appealing, but a remark from a past professor always comes to mind: “I would rather have something genuine and a little late than a product that is thrown together at the last minute.” If you have to take an extension, then talk with your professor and express your concerns. More often than not, you’ll find that professors are human and will work with you to ensure the best possible outcome.

Overall, I thought that it was a successful gathering. Hopefully people can apply this advice to their current and future goals.

Melissa Hollander
Education Unit, Fountain House

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