“The professor didn’t tell us how long this paper has to be. What do I do?”

My early college experience didn’t start out very well; I learned things the hard way. Wrestling with professors over the use of semicolons and how to cite a Bible verse, it took some time to learn three things: 1) How to go about asking a professor what writing style they prefer, 2) Dealing with an answer that essentially said “I’m not going to coach you”, and 3) Knowing when to ask #1, and how to get over #2.

No degree experience of mine, online or classroom, has been a simple one. I will say that HACS has been by far, the very best experience I have had. That said, there have been moments where I was stumped of an idea about moving forward in a course. Writing a good paper is no small task, but what happens when your professor doesn’t define the requirements to a T? Should this happen to you, let me provide a few examples and suggestions.

– You don’t always need to ask. Be sure that you look in every possible source before you ask the professor for specific instruction. Countless times I have asked or have seen others ask the question on Populi and the answer was right in the syllabus or somewhere on Populi. There is no shame in missing instructions but it is considerate and better of the student to look through everything first.
– Beans and rice might seem nice, but… They’re filler! Using filler in a paper is temping, but it might do more harm than good. Why? Ask yourself these questions: is there is more to grade? Is this sentence moving my paper towards the point? Would I get my point accross without this sentence? You might feel the paper is bettered by a certain reference, or pithy quote, but if it doesn’t really move your paper along, cut it out.
– Is it publishable? Dr. Toolin taught me a special lesson in her Triune God course, “an “A” is something worthy of being published.” I had always done my best, but my “best” was only the best in that class. I hadn’t considered the difference in my writing should hundreds or thousands of people plan on reading it. Write as if you are writing not just for a grade, but for your name, and the organization you are representing. Write as if someone can click on your next article and share it.
– Ask, when all else fails. Of all the lessons my dad taught me it is that I need to find answers myself before asking that still rings in my ear. Still, I have a bad habit of shooting off an email or jumping to the cubicle next to me at work because I don’t want to waste time finding an answer that someone else knows right away. That’s reasonable, but it’s not considerate and it doesn’t make anyone a better student or profesisonal. By “wasting my time” I become more familiar with my files, e-files, history of emails, realize I need better organization, and it makes me a self-problem-solver and not someone who has other people solve my problems. Once you have exhausted your own known resources, or you don’t even know where to begin, then ask.
– “You don’t know what you don’t know” so remember that when someone else asks you for help. There is a guy at work who gives me trouble. I miss a detail on some contractual action and he asks me, “you didn’t know!?” There are only two possibilities to answer that question. My first choice is the wrong one: like a smart alec, because if I did know, and didn’t do it, there is a bigger problem.

I didnt know though, and replied “[name withheld], I didn’t know that.”
To which he said “then why didn’t you ask?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me”, is all I can think of. He means for me to ask a question about something I am completely unaware of? As if we are born with a checklist of things we need to know, and once we review it, we ask? No.

The point is: be considerate when someone asks you a question. Never assume someone didn’t take the time to do something as that makes them less likely to ask you again, which ruins the dynamic between peers and leader-follower relationships.

Our first Pope tells us “Always be ready to give an answer … and do so with gentleness …” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Of course he was talking about apologetics but there is no reason that only applies to faith and morals.

The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.