On the write path

students_guide_cover_LRG.jpgThe University of Chicago Press doesn't suffer fools gladly. The Press released the fourth edition of Kate L. Turabian’s Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers on April 1—April Fool's Day—because turning students into good writers is no joke.

Aimed at advanced high school and beginning college students, the Student’s Guide is a step-by-step aid to writing university-level research papers. It offers advice on how to choose a topic, begin researching, plan drafts with a storyboard, find and evaluate reliable sources, cite sources accurately, and design visual aids and graphs. The guide also provides tricks for working through writer’s block and an overview of Chicago, MLA, and APA citation styles, including those for digital sources.

Perhaps most importantly, the manual addresses an insidious problem for rookie researchers: procrastination. Avoid the academic urban myth of the “one-draft wonder,” the editors warn. Nary a student has produced a perfectly developed, one-draft research paper the night before the due date. Steer clear of this approach at all costs.

Here are a few of the book’s anti-procrastination tips:

  • Start drafting as soon as you have all the evidence you think you need. You can always go back and gather more information later if necessary.

  • Write in short bursts instead of marathon sessions that will “dull your thinking" and "kill your interest.”

  • Set a goal to produce a small number of pages every time you sit down to write, even if they aren't very good.

  • Most of all, don’t kid yourself: a short text message, online chat, or computer game will NOT help refresh your brain or motivate you to get back to work in just a few minutes. So do your writing where you'll have few distractions.

The original author of the Student’s Guide, Kate Turabian (1893-1987) was a fixture at the University for many years, serving as the graduate student dissertation secretary from 1930 to 1958. She wrote a short style guide to help doctoral students, which eventually became A Manual for Writers and today has sold 8 million copies in seven editions. In 1963 Turabian published a version for high school and college students—the first Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.

More than four decades later, an editorial team that includes Gregory Colomb, professor of English at the University of Virginia, and Joseph Williams, a former Chicago English professor who died in 2008, builds upon Turabian’s classic advice, tailoring it to twenty-first century students.

Yet despite today's digital resources and distractions, one constant is the panic that can overcome first-time writers. The editorial team behind Student’s Guide hopes to help.

Emily Riemer, AM’09


Writing in College: A Short Guide to College Writing” by Joseph M. Williams and Lawrence McEnerney (The University of Chicago Writing Program)

Out of the Question,” (UChiBLOGo, Jan. 7, 2009)

In Style,” (UChiBLOGo, Dec. 8, 2009)

April 2, 2010