I need to write some incredibly tedious essays for work. I can't. Help.
June 27, 2014 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently on a graduate training scheme, and whilst some of it's interesting, they keep making me write really horrible essays on 'professional practice', and I really can't cope with it.

Here's an example of some text from a recent question:
The assignment should show your reflections on how your critical analysis of the selected incidents have altered or shaped your knowledge and understanding of professional practice with respect to the values and behaviours in your field. Your work must draw extensively on relevant literature to provide a theoretical perspective on the reflective approach adopted.
I find this kind of task really difficult, I'm pretty opinionated and come from a physics background and I wan't to tear into their flimsy premises rather than accepting them at face value. I can't do that within the scope of what they're asking for, and instead I've got to write about how double loop learning has broadened my professional horizons, or whatever terrible clichés they feel like using.

I've told my manager that I don't think these exercises are a good use of anyone's time, and she agrees but says I need to do them and she doesn't set the syllabus, which is fair enough.

So, it sounds like I've got to do them. But how? Whenever I sit down to work I look through some of the material, decide everyone in the field is an idiot, get frustrated, seethe for ten or fifteen minutes then decide to do something else. That's obviously not productive, and I need a coping strategy to get through it. Any advice?

P.S. I realise I come across as really dismissive of the whole thing in that, and I do appreciate there might be some good work on these topics out there. However, the things we have to deal with are not the good bits, as an example, one of our set texts was an extended metaphor that went on for a couple of pages, comparing the process of reflection to 'a deep blue lagoon' *shudder*.
posted by Ned G to Education (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Welcome to the world of work, where you will be asked to do reports no one reads, and to create training classes no one will ever take.

It sucks, but it's a thing. So who cares about quality, grind it out like sausage. Throw in some buzzwords, get ideas from the interwebs and make them your own.

Do just enough to get by.

Some things aren't worth your whole brain, so use just enough to get them done.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:44 AM on June 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm pretty opinionated

There's your problem. So far as I can tell, despite appearances, in this kind of essay nobody gives a flying whatnot about your opinions. They are of no relevance. They just want you to regurgitate the syllabus in the prescribed format.

Just imagine it's a maths problem. Given X, prove Y and Z. Whether X is true or useful is beside the point, right? If I asked you how many apples Patsy and Peter have after some long winded mathematical apple shuffling you don't say BUT THE APPLES WOULD HAVE GONE ROTTEN BY NOW!

It's not personal.
posted by emilyw at 8:49 AM on June 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

Time to view this as an acting job. What would a goody two-shoes brown-nosing boot-licking sycofant toady write? Channel that.

And if that doesn't work, Pomodoro Technique to the rescue!
posted by carmicha at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just for perspective, this is exactly the kind of stuff one has to churn out in job applications. AND make a positive impression. Nobody finds this easy without some training.

The only way to get about this is to analyze and dismiss and break the assignment down into smaller steps. Taking your example as example:

The assignment should show your reflections
As opposed to opinions

on how your critical analysis of the selected incidents have altered or shaped your knowledge and understanding
List the incidents, whatever they are, and take stock of the state of your understanding of them. Is your analysis still needed, or already ready? Make a list of what needs to be done. Analyze, organize, write down while you do it (or whatever other systematic way of addressing this bit meets the specific case).

of professional practice with respect to the values and behaviours in your field.
This together with the previous fragment addresses a simple technique of comparing a before and after situation. Begin from behind here: the values and behaviours in your field, that's what's encoded in the following:

Your work must draw extensively on relevant literature
So: find some books (course literature anyone? You likely have some easy help around there. Otherwise, make a google scholar search and go to your library and search for keywords. No rocket science. Plan a realistic timeframe for this work, so you don't go overboard, or give up too early).

After you've found, and read what you've found (write while reading), you know what values and behaviors are considered typical in the field with respect to the selected topic area. Now comes the synthesizing part in which you end up doing this:

to provide a theoretical perspective on the reflective approach adopted.
Namely simply, you compare the results of your analysis of the "incidents", with what you found out is already been encoded as practice, and write down how knowing about this difference changes your outlook.
What's asked for here is neither that you accept their stuff at face value nor that you tear into it. You're asked to demonstrate sound critical thinking, based on solid reading and understanding, and to write this down in an organized form (problem description - previous literature/theory - analysis - synthesis). No one asks for clichés in terms of content, the exercise is about standard research techniques, is all.
An assignment is as useful as one makes it.
posted by Namlit at 9:15 AM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

My advice is: satire. Look on this as an exercise in extremely subtle humor. Write an essay so ridiculous you could submit it as a paper in the field.
posted by bq at 9:27 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah, the time-honored practice of asking a meaningless question with a zero-effort essay prompt. Someone wrote that essay prompt in the exact same situation you are in: because they had to do something and had no real inspiration nor inclination to.

This is what helped me get through grad school, and maybe it would work for you too: If the question asks nothing of consequence and serves only as busywork useful to no one, I would just force myself to write continuously. Just keep on typing no matter what I was putting down, even if I thought it was shit. Then quit and turn it in.

Don't let "perfect" get in the way of "shit no one will read so it's done".
posted by Willie0248 at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

If the author of that question can't write any better than that, I'd not worry much about his or her judgment of yours. Or maybe I would.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:30 AM on June 27, 2014

Ouch, I sympathize, as others have said, just get it out, so it isn't hanging over your head anymore. It is a ridiculous question and isn't worth all of the agony you are having over it. Good luck, I hope there aren't too many more of these in your future!
posted by mouseboy at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2014

You don't say what profession you're supposed to be practicing, here, but I suspect the easiest way to get through these is to spend 90% of the time writing about specific professional incidents (something that happened in a classroom, or a conflict between coworkers, or an argument about whose names went on a paper, or the like), and only 10% of the time on the theoretical framework.

You could also entertain yourself by writing, with greater or lesser sarcasm, about the clash of cultures between "hard" sciences and this program: "Physicists are trained to value data that can be measured and counted, and to be dismissive of reflection or analogies involving immmeasurably large bodies of water . . ."
posted by yarntheory at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something that helped me with academia was a friend saying "you're never going to want to do it".. this put a bit of a rocket up me as waiting to be solely motivated by panic is always stressful.

Maybe try breaking the title into chunks, brainstorming any words/concepts that come to mind with each bit.

As I read books I always underline (with pencil) and scribble stuff around whatever rings a bell/reminds me of an idea someone else has had/critiqued shared and/or sparks a reaction in me .. when you go back to all that stuff it can pad it out a bit.

The capacity to reflect is important and worthwhile in a lot of fields I think, but I don't know why they always make such a convuluted and deterring ass out of essay titles.
posted by tanktop at 11:33 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a formula that they are looking for:

Dramatic/funny/touching story about work. It should be relatable and generic, and should have a punchline or moral you can come back to throughout the text. It should illustrate a problem addressed by the literature.

Follow this with reflection that states your expectations and how reality met/did not meet them. You're supposed to express surprise, and then describe how you spent some time researching this very topic.

In your quest to fully understand your experience, you came across source, source, and source which all have great pullquotes confirming the existence of the problem or incident you experienced, and detailing its effects. 2nd set of three sources details the effect on various populations of concern or specific topics that are hot right now. Third set of sources shares some possible solutions, and the last source provides the direct answer or resolution to whatever your question or reflection is about.

The final paragraph is also a personal narrative about how you resolved the the issue or how you plan to approach it in the future. If you can demonstrate a resolution to the original incident, perfect. If not, end with a strong pullquote from your last source (the direct solution one) and a restatement of that source in your words that makes it sort of poetic and personally meaningful. FIN.

Remember that most people who write that kind of prompt aren't looking for meaningful work, they're just looking for something that sounds meaningful. Also, if your beginning and ending are both really strong and persuasive, the middle can be phoned in. The prompt is looking for a feelgood essay that breaks no ground whatsoever, so give them that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:45 AM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

My coping strategy for crap like this is the simplest one out there.

It has to be done. Bitching and moaning to yourself about it won't make it magically not have to be done. So you're just prolonging the pain.

So (sorry) just do it.
posted by gaspode at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2014

This is where you practice the art of BS and get really good at it.

Just LIE. Don't go overboard -- you still need to be believable. But lie just the same.

It gets super fun after a while.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2014

comparing the process of reflection to 'a deep blue lagoon'
In my recent work, I have found myself dwelling in the "deep blue lagoon" of reflection (1) and have found it helpful in informing my designs of the widgets we're making for Acme corporation. Without this thought I would not have had the tools necessary to optimize the functionality and profitability of these parts.

(1) I.M. Butthole, "Crap Metaphors"
Seriously horrendous sentences, exactly what this prompt requires. Your job here is to produce work that meets the requirements, not work that meets the requirements and advances scholarship or thoughtfulness.
posted by disconnect at 1:22 PM on June 27, 2014

I'm a teacher, so I see a fair amount of students who believe their midterm and final essays are just are garbagey, jargon laced nonsense as that truly terrible prompt you posted above. The difference of course is that they're wrong, but my advice to them is not substantially different to you: write an outline!

Outlines are magic things when responding to prompts because 1: they hardly take any time at all to put together 2: you cover all the bases required of you in an organized, brainless way and 3: once you've done the outline, responding to each piece of the prompt, all you have to do is write fluffed out whole sentences that correlate with the hastily scribbled points you scratched out on some scrap that demonstrates your contempt with the whole business. Once you have an outline, the worst part (actually responding to the crap) is over, and the rest is easy, since you've already organized what you're going to say...and, seriously, writing an outline in response to something like that shouldn't take more than 10-20 minutes.

Outline! Then, just hack out some boring sentences that are functionally grammatical and wash your hands of it.
posted by zinful at 2:05 PM on June 27, 2014

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