Here’s how I got to this topic today…

I saw a movie about Joan of Arc, the one starring Ingrid Bergman as a 3o something year old playing a 16 year old, although she did a great job with what she had.  I’ve always loved the story of Joan of Arc and find her story absolutely fascinating.  Late last year, I had seen an old movie of Joan of Arc, I think it was silent, that had been on a list of top ten movies or female performances or something of all time.  It was based on the actual transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial and was just brutal.  The poor actress never acted again.

Anyway, that took my confetti brain to a paper I wrote in college when I was taking a semester of Mark Twain in graduate school.  My thesis for that class was on Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, not one of his more well known books, but one he called his favorite.  The book was highly criticized when it was published, probably because it was so different from his other works, especially the ones where he viewed religions so irreverently.  It was called too sentimental and not historically correct.  I took the stand, with all my 21 years of experience, that Twain based the work on more historic truth than they thought.  He probably did base his own image of Joan on his beloved daughter, Susie.

Those thoughts morphed into memories of those term papers that I always seemed to be writing.  As an English major, it was part of the deal.  While I was taking the Twain class, I was also teaching Freshman Composition as a graduate assistant, having to teach how to write those papers.  In those golden old days, a research paper was a tedious thing, unless you really liked researching, which I did.  It required many visits to the library, a grand place to go at Oklahoma State University.  There you plowed through the card catalogue by hand, looking for anything remotely connected to your topic.  Then you had to find this book or article and either check it out or sit in the library and read it.  I think I made notes on little note cards for some reason.  Maybe I organized them into something…who knows.

After you digested all of this information, you took all the notes and started writing a rough draft…by hand.  I learned to write papers in junior high and high school, using the rules in this little blue book, which I can’t believe I still have.  I may need it some day and it does have really good information on just writing in general.


Either in high school or college, I also used this book, good old Strunk & White.  While writing this, I looked it up and found that it was considered antiquated just a few years ago.  If you know nothing about writing, it still gives you some good lessons.


After you had your final draft finished, and you may have had to write several, you were faced with some of the low tech of the time.  Papers had to be turned in typed, sometimes with more than one copy.  We didn’t have copiers then, so we used carbon paper.  I knew people who had to have several copies of each paper.  Oh yeah, there could be no errors.  Sometimes, the professor would let you get by with one or two.  Picture sitting down at your typewriter, which was an electric one by the time I got to college.  I learned to type on a manual.  Electric typewriters were all we had until word processors came into being by the time some of my kids were in college.  At least they had copiers.

Anyway, you sat down to type your paper, which had to have footnotes and a bibliography, knowing you couldn’t have any mistakes.  There was also the time factor because few college students got to this point until the night before the paper was due…no matter how long you had worked on it.  You had to stop and roll the paper down part way to insert the footnote number, hoping you would get the paper back in the same spot.  And you had to plan when to stop the page so that you could have room for the footnotes.  It was a delicately balanced process.

Then came the dreaded mistake.  You had to peel back each copy and correct each one with a typewriter eraser and something to scrape off the carbon word.  Later we got Liquid Paper, although teachers didn’t like that so much.  Even later was correcting paper or tape.  Imagine a 20 page paper with this process.  I’m cringing now…and I was an excellent typist.

OK.  You finished the final page and rolled it out of the typewriter.  Then you had to proofread the paper.  Oh no!  You find an error and you have to start all over.  I was a student counselor in the dorm as an undergraduate and saw some real drama with term papers.  When I was teaching….well, I saw some real interesting final products.  And you might have more than one paper due at the same time.  Super drama!

So, I have gone from Joan of Arc to this tale of research papers.  I’m so grateful for what that old process taught me.  There was a real sense of accomplishment when you had a good idea and found information to prove it.  There was a discipline to it all.   I don’t know how they teach this process today or why it’s nearly as hard with computers, but I’m sure it is.  Students are students and they probably still write their papers the night before.

This is one of those times I’m just glad I can look back on all of it and don’t have assignments due or grades to worry about.  Life is worrisome enough after college.  In fact, those worries don’t seem so big now.  Happy Spring Term to all those students out there.  You’ll end up ok, even if you procrastinate.  Smile.