Writer's WebProfessors' Pet Peeves

In speaking with professors about their pet peeves, their main irritations were fairly straightforward: students straying from the guidelines of strong IS writing detailed on this site. However, another common theme of problems in student writing concerned respectful treatment of unfamiliar cultures.

Because much of the subject matter of IS is inherently unfamilar, at least at the initial level, there is ample opportunity for students to make gaffes in referencing cultures, languages, etc., that they are not accustomed to discussing. Some common irritants for professors:

I. Using the imperial "we." It is the natural tendency of many students to adopt the first person plural in speaking conversationally about US actions, and this habit often transcends into their writing. However, it is important to avoid using categorizations of "we versus them" in referencing US interaction with others. For example:

II. Using gendered language. Avoid attributing gender classifications when speaking of countries (ie: using "she" or "her" when referring to a country). Also never assume that a leader, opponent, or citizen is male. For example:

III. Misspelling words in second languages. Be especially meticulous checking your spellings of non-English words. It is easy for even a spelling-conscious student to overlook a mistake in a language they have never studied, and such an error significantly weakens their paper. No professor wants to read a paper filled with references to "Shite Muslims"; students must do their research and reference terms in unfamiliar languages correctly (here, "Shi'ite").

IV. Failing to proofread. Along the same lines, general proofreading is a must before you turn in a paper. Most students can testify to the number of errors they catch when they comb their paper for mistakes before submitting their final draft. A particularly effective method of proofreading is to read your paper aloud.

V. Using generalities carelessly. Be extremely careful including terms like "culture," "society," and so forth in your writing. Unless you are being extremely specific in these classifications and have hard evidence to back up your categorizations, avoid such problem phrases.

There are a number of words that tend to raise red flags for IS professors and signal weak analysis. Dr. L. Carol Summers, professor of History and International Studies, recommends her students avoid mentioning the following in IS papers:

Writer's Web also provides a list of general faculty pet peeves.


Back to "Professors' Pet Peeves" or the International Studies main page.
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