Professors should always require a first draft

By Hadassah Umbarger, Staff Writer

College students know the feeling well.

You’ve just settled down in bed. “Hey,” your brain whispers, “don’t you have a paper due next week?”

“So what? I’ve got a whole week — I need sleep.”

It goes on for the next two days, then five, and then finally you realize that you have a paper due tomorrow— and haven’t even started on it yet.

There are many solutions to this problem. Just stop procrastinating! Get into a routine! Grab some study buddies! Make yourself write the first page on the day it’s assigned, and then write a little more each day!

But does anybody actually do that? Can we actually identify a problem that can be solved by less procrastination and then procrastinate less? For me at least, I procrastinate on being less procrastinate-y. Yes, that’s a word now.

So that’s it. We’re stuck in this vicious cycle of slowly eating away our time with things that aren’t homework. There’s no solution.

Or is there?

I propose that every professor on campus be required to assign a first draft before the completed paper is submitted.

Now, before you pick up your pitchforks, hear me out. We as college students sometimes have good intentions, and some of those good intentions have to do with procrastination. However, we as college students are also…what’s the right word for this…weak? Unmotivated? Lazy? I’m not sure, but we sometimes don’t have the strength to act on our good intentions. Professors that require drafts can help us to act on those good intentions.

I’ve been in classes where first drafts have been required, and I’ve also been in classes where first drafts have not been required. In both kinds of classes, I have procrastinated on writing my papers. But in the classes where I had already worked through a first draft, I was able to write my final draft more quickly because of my head start.

This is not a magical cure for procrastination. Just the other day, I had to email a professor to let her know that my paper would be late —a paper that I had written a first draft for three weeks before. And even though I discarded parts of my first draft and had to rework the parts I kept, I still at least had a starting point and an idea of where I wanted to go with it.

It does seem like more work up front for both professors and students, but I think that in the long term, it will benefit us immensely. If students are allowed a free pass to write badly, and then given the chance and feedback to rework it into something readable, students’ writing skills will improve.

Students who struggle with writing papers will get better, and their grades will, too. And the benefits go beyond the classroom: I’ve heard at least two professors mention in their lectures that communication skills, both oral and written, are on the list of qualities that employers look for when hiring.

I had to give a speech in class the other day and I chose this as my topic. I was the only English major in the room and at the end of my speech, I asked those in favor to raise their hands. Each student (and our professor!) did. Non-English majors think this is a good idea too.

Maybe this is too big of a change to take at once, though. I have also taken a class where the professor let us choose whether to submit a first draft or not. She welcomed drafts and told us that she would give us feedback and let us rework them and resubmit them, but she didn’t require them.

The students who cared about writing the best paper they could and the students who cared about getting a good grade did, and the students who didn’t care weren’t forced to. So maybe instead of a blanket-rule where first-drafts are required, professors could at least make it an option. And maybe someday in the future, we can find strategies for procrastination that actually work.

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