Over the years my handouts for writing assignments of all kinds — short, long, research papers, close reading analysis, whatever — have gotten longer and more detailed. The longer the assignment, the more complicated this summation might be, but it’s never longer than a short paragraph. So, in other words, I see my assignments as teaching student how to do what I want them to do, rather than just assuming they know what’s expected in whatever the assignment is asking. Sounds like I’m setting them up for success, doesn’t it? And in some ways I’m even writing my assignments like a well formed essay or narrative, with a beginning, and middle, and an end. And yet, somehow it doesn’t work. More and more students seem to miss the point, the big picture, even when it’s underlined and in bold and repeated at the beginning and end. And the students who miss this big picture include English majors, honors students, and even MA students. I had one assignment in my graduate methods class that was an utter failure — not as single finished assignment addressed the big picture. Instead, they get all hung up on the details.

In that grad assignment, for example, they were seriously angsty over how to site the web page for a scholarly journal. Seriously. A whole bunch of them. I couldn’t figure out why so many of them were spending so much time on those web sites. I should have known that they were missing the point from the weird questions they were asking. I have to say that I long for the approach most of my undergraduate professors used. At any rate I’m starting to think I’m giving them too much guidance and they’re getting lost in the details. And I’m also giving too many assignments. While that theoretically gives many more opportunities to learn, I’m not sure the students who need it the most take those opportunities. It definitely gives students more grades (each weighted very little), but then some of the flakier ones fail to do every one. And it burns me out on grading. So what do you all think? Let them work out the how? Or maybe move the process-oriented guidelines to an appendix and limit the first page to big picture stuff (and move it all there)? A perverse part of me now thinks I should have a class day dedicated to how to read assignment instructions! But that would be a little insane. What do you think?

Thank you for this letter. Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to clarify. Thanks Christopher, I’ve just heard from Kurtis and have found answers to most of my queries. Hi – was looking through your list of essay prizes, and didn’t see one on there which you might want to add: The Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay Prize. Thanks for this, John – much appreciated. I’ve added the competition to the listings. Hi Chris. Thanks for your effort in compiling this page of essay writing competitions. Last year, I was declared winner in the edubirdie writing competition listed on your page. I also received an appreciation certificate from lifesaver essay contest, but still have some doubts about writing essays for these essay service providers. You have mentioned that some of the contests on the page are run by essay service providers, but don’t you think that most of them are run by theses types of services?

I’m confused, if I write for some contests run by these services, what are they going to do with my essay later on? This is putting me off participating in these types of competition. Hi Madeeha. No problem. And congratulations on winning the edubirdie competition – that’s great news. A lot of the contests I list are run by essay writing services. I guess it makes sense for them to run these types of competitions as they are relevant to their websites and help with marketing their brands. Most of the competitions listed publish winning essays on their websites. That’s good for a writer’s portfolio. Beyond that, I haven’t seen any other statements about what the competition administrators might do with an essay you submit. As you own the copyright, they couldn’t do anything without your permission anyway. I don’t think there is any harm in submitting to these competitions. I just question the ethics of an industry that offers a service that writes essays for students – to me, it seems like offering a way of cheating. Still, the contests are separate from that and can help a writer develop and add credits to their CV. I guess it’s your call, but personally I don’t see a problem with submitting to contests run by these businesses. If you’re worried about it, I’d simply submit to contests that are not run by these types of business. There are other sites outside of the essay writing service industry listed on my site. Maybe try some of those? I hope that answers your question, but please let me know if you require any further information. Hi Christopher. I want to write a novel about a girl’s life – inspirational, loving, entertaining mood swings, family, schooling and her entire life in different situations. I want to publish it but I don’t know whom to trust my novel story with. You could try Inkitt. They offer a trustworthy platform. It’s free to use. I deal with them regularly and they seem like good people.

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