Top Ten Student Pet Peeves


Last week our blog discussed the top ten instructor pet peeves regarding student research papers. But fair is fair, so this week we’ve compiled a top ten list of student pet peeves regarding written assignments.



  1. No written assignment. This may be the number one complaint from students in the writing center. When assigning a paper, too often instructors give a verbal explanation in class, with no clear written guidelines for students to refer to, leaving them with numerous questions as they sit down to compose their essay. Written guidelines not only help the student compose a better essay, but also help the instructor to avoid numerous assignment-related questions.
  2. Unclear academic jargon. This is especially a problem for English language learners and freshmen. These students are new to college and often are not familiar with academic language that is second nature to upper classmen and college professors. When giving written assignments, use plain speak.
  3. Lack of written feedback. Students wait impatiently for their graded essays so they can read the feedback from instructors and learn what they need to improve for their next essay. If they receive only a grade and little to no written feedback, it’s difficult to discern what they need to improve. If nothing needs improving, instructors should state that as well.
  4. Lack of explanations. Instructors might assign a “literary analysis,” or a “rhetorical analysis,” or an “expository essay,” and expect students to know what these types of essays mean (see “unclear academic jargon” above). Even if instructors think they’ve explained it thoroughly in class, a brief written explanation goes a long way.
  5. Surprise expectations. Students read the assignment objectives and follow all guidelines as written, composing what they feel is a strong paper. When they get it back from the instructor, they’ve received a low grade because they didn’t include the textbook as one of their sources; however, this wasn’t a requirement listed in the assignment guidelines. Surprise! If it’s a requirement, make it part of the written assignment.
  6. Failure to define grading criteria. One word: Rubric. Vast bodies of research show that grading rubrics help students understand their final grade. Many instructors give the grading rubrics to students with the assignments so students know exactly how they will be evaluated before they turn in their paper. Why should it be a surprise? Be upfront and give students the opportunity to succeed.
  7. Failure to offer assignment objectives. I admit I’ve been guilty of this more than once. I’ve also been called out on it. Students want to know why they are being asked to do something, so they feel they’re not just jumping through hoops. How does it fit in with the class objectives? How will it aid their learning? How will completing this assignment help them to succeed on the next assignment? Students are smart and often are very good judges of what they need. Offer a list of two or three assignment objectives so students know why the work you’re asking them to do is necessary.
  8. No positive feedback. It’s often difficult to look past pages of sentence-level errors or lack of focus, organization, paragraph structure or fill-in-the-blank. But studies show it’s often the positive feedback that aids learning, not the negative feedback. Pointing out a passage that is particularly strong or a descriptive sentence that is especially vivid is the best way to encourage students to model the positives, as opposed to attempting to avoid the negatives.
  9. Lack of essay samples. Students like to read examples of essays so they get a feel for what the expectations are. Spending a class period having students assess a sampling of student essays, discussing what is working and what isn’t, is a good way to show how they might compose their own essays.
  10. Lack of suggested resources. If it’s not in the syllabus, think about putting it on the assignment handout. Purdue Owl is on all my written assignments, arguable the best online source for writing help. I also have it linked in my online class management system (Angel or Blackboard). You can also list links to such things as sample essays or how to access the library online. Again, it helps instructors (by avoiding a barrage of questions) as much as it helps students.

This is only an abbreviated list of student pet peeves, but lack of convenient parking is out of my control.


Integrating Sources into Your Research Paper

Any type of source material, regardless if you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote, must be integrated smoothly into your essay. Research that is taken from an outside source and just stuck into random paragraphs without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that are choppy and difficult to read. Writers who aren’t used to utilizing outside sources often have a difficult time making outside research sound like it belongs in their research paper, but with careful preparation, your sources will flow smoothly into your text.

First Things First: Draft

Before you begin to integrate your sources, you need something to integrate them into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a first draft of your paper, with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over your paper. Instructors often require a rough draft before even integrating source material.


Author tags, or attributive tags, let the reader know that information about to be presented is from your source, and not you. You must make clear throughout your paper what information is coming from outside sources. Failing to use attributions is often a one-way ticket to plagiarism violations.

Use an introductory phrase, followed by the quotation:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says that “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Note that in the previous example, there is no comma after “that” as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word “says,” it would have a comma immediately after “says”:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says, “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Hillocks (1986) argues that “the teaching of grammar has no appreciable effect on the development of students’ writing abilities” (p. 183).

Use an assertion as a complete independent clause, followed by a colon:


Goldberg believes writers must show feelings and avoid telling at all costs: “The writer takes the reader’s hand and guides him through the valley of sorrow and joy without ever having to mention those words” (68).

The rule for using a colon following an attribution is if the attributive tag is a complete sentence, an independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. Dangling quotes, or quotes that stand alone as a sentence, are considered incorrect, as the quote has no attribution. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Incorrect:  Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Correct: Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Attributions with Paraphrases and Summary

In the examples below, the writer includes the name of the source, even though it is a paraphrase and not a direct quote. By doing this, the reader knows the information is coming from research and not the writer:

In Talking from 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that for women in the workplace, the situation is changing, whether we talk about it or not (130).

Nickerson (1999) argues that clear communication hinges upon what an audience does and does not know. It is crucial to assume the audience has neither too much nor too little knowledge of the subject, or the communication may be inhibited by either confusion or offense (p. 737).

Final Thoughts

As you work on integrating your source material, keep in mind the following:

• Do not use two quotations in a row without intervening (explanatory) material of your own.

• Introduce a quote either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

• Avoid referring to your sources as quotes. Don’t write, “In this quote,” but instead, “Here we see” or “As Eliot points out.”

By following a few simple steps as you work to integrate outside source material, your research will flow naturally, creating a finished paper that will read like soft churned butter: smooth.



Why do these three little letters incite so much fear, frustration and anxiety into the hearts of students everywhere? Why do some instructors bleed red all over your citation page? If you already know how to cite research in APA style, why does your English teacher force you to use MLA?

When writing a research paper, collecting the research is only part of the battle. Once you have decided how to use the sources in your paper, you’ll now need to cite them at the end of your essay on a Works Cited page (MLA) or a References page (APA). If you’ve always used APA style and know it well, switching to MLA (or vise-versa) can be confusing, but understanding the differences between the two citation styles – as well as the similarities – will make the task less daunting.

Modern Language Association, or MLA, is used to cite sources in most humanities courses. The final page of your research paper will list all the sources you used in your paper, the Works Cited page. MLA focuses their citations on the author of texts, so in-text citations in your paper will reference the last name of the author. 

The American Psychological Association, or APA, is used to cite sources in the social or other sciences. In the sciences, the emphasis of citations is on the date of publication. This makes sense, right? The currency of research is much more important to social scientists, who need to keep abreast of the most current trends and often include tables and statistics in their research.

In-text Citations

In-text citations are needed in the body of a paper to direct readers to the Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page if they would like to know more about the sources cited in the paper. In-text citations appear immediately after quoted material.


When referencing an author in the body of your essay, MLA utilizes the author’s last name, followed by the page number when available. So, depending on if you have included the author’s name in your text, the citation will look like  

“Quotation” (Author’s Last Name Page Number).

(If the author is not named in a signal phrase) This concern has been expressed (Smith 118). 

(If the author’s name is in a signal phrase) Smith has expressed this concern (118).


APA style for in-text citations also uses the author and page numbers like MLA, but unlike MLA, the year of publication is given as well:

“Quotation” (Author’s last name, year, page number).

(If the author is not named in a signal phrase)

To see chocolate in your dream signifies self-reward. It also denotes that you may be indulging in too many excesses and need to practice some restraint (Ford, 2010, p. 197).

(If the author’s name is in a signal phrase)

Steven Ford (2010) believes that to see chocolate in your dream signifies self-reward. It also denotes that you may be indulging in too many excesses and need to practice some restraint (p. 197).

Notice that APA places commas between citation information and uses an abbreviated “p.” to note the page number.

Works Cited vs. References Pages

For a simple book entry, APA focuses on the year of publication, so places this immediately after the author’s name. MLA also includes the date of publication, but places it after all other information:


Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Henley, Patricia. The Hummingbird House. Denver: MacMurray, 1999. Print.


Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Final Thoughts

MLA and APA are only two of the most commonly used citation styles. You might study journalism, whose professors might ask you to cite according to AP (not to be confused with APA) style. Or you may find a history professor ask you to use Chicago style. No matter what kind of system professors ask you to use, most have more similarities than differences.

Once the nuances between the two citation styles are understood, you should be able to effortlessly create citations for either style. Well, it may take a little effort, but maybe not as much as what you feared.

All About Annotated Bibliographies

Your instructor has assigned a research paper, and you have spent some time discovering information about your topic and are ready to begin collecting the sources you want to use in your paper. However, before you begin the work of writing the paper, your instructor has asked you to turn in an “Annotated Bibliography.”  So what exactly is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a summary or evaluation of the research you have compiled and are planning to use in your paper. The term, “bibliography” refers to a list of sources, such as books, peer-reviewed articles, or websites that one has compiled in their research. In MLA format, this list is referred to as “Works Cited,” and if you are using APA format, it is referred to as a “References” page. The bibliography listing includes the title of the book, article, or webpage, the author, and other publishing information.

In an annotated bibliography, you are asked to “annotate,” or summarize and/or evaluate the sources you are using. Whether you only summarize the research or evaluate it depends on the assignment guidelines.


When you summarize the research, you will simply state the main argument the research is making.  When summarizing an entire book, you may want to include what the book’s main theme is, and any relevant chapters. When summarizing a website, you might want to offer a bit about the sponsor of the website. A journal article will probably have an argument it is trying to make, so you’ll want to summarize what the author’s position is.


When evaluating sources for an annotated bibliography list, you are being asked to give your judgment on the source. This could mean anything from explaining if the source is useful (hopefully, or you wouldn’t be using it, right?), if the source has any biases, or if the source is credible.

These are the most common annotated bibliography assignments, but other assignments might ask you to simply reflect on how you will use the sources in your paper. Take care to understand your instructor’s assignment before you begin.


Usually your instructor will give you specific guidelines to follow as you format your annotated list. If in doubt – ASK. Don’t guess. But generally the bibliographic information is written in paragraph form. Depending on your guidelines, the annotation may be only two or three lines, or two or three paragraphs. If your instructor asks you to summarize and evaluate, your annotation will be longer than simply a brief summary.

Below is an example of MLA annotated bibliography entry. Notice that the author’s name is on a hanging indent, with everything else indented:

(Example from

In the example above, the annotations begin immediately after the citation information, with no line break. Note that formatting varies, and some style manuals offer no formatting guidelines. Always ask your instructor for his/her preference.


Researching sources for an assignment is often the most time consuming part of the writing process, but this is also the most critical step. Instructors don’t assign annotated bibliographies to torture you; reading the research carefully will help you to formulate a strong thesis. Becoming familiar with the research will also aid you as you organize your points, as you’ll know exactly what you need to support your position, and where to place the sources for the most effect. You’ll learn to better evaluate sources and consider how you’ll utilize them to support your argument.

The best part: after you’re done,  you’ll be an expert among your peers on the subject!