Sunday, December 2, 2012

Paper Assignment from Kurt Vonnegut

Slate has reprinted a term paper assignment written by Kurt Vonnegut. The form is a bit unusual -- a letter -- but otherwise it's a clever but not wildly innovative assignment, with some elements that any composition teacher would recognize as hallmarks of a good writing task (for instance, it asks students to write for a specific, hypothetical but plausible beyond-the-classroom audience).  The part that really charmed me, however, was the last paragraph:
Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.
I fear I might be approaching the going-blind-or-killing-somebody stage, and the papers I'm reading are not 20 pp. each (though there are over 80 of them in all, mercifully divided among several assignments).  I'm impressed both by Vonnegut's clear limit-setting, and by his stamina.


  1. Alas, my students wouldn't understand an assignment like this.

    1. Ditto! They'd beg for an example of what I wanted and then copy exactly what I handed them.

    2. A significant portion of mine would complain that it's far too long (while also wanting to know, like Cynic's students, exactly what I want them to do). They'd also object to my burying the most important information (how many pages do I have to write? OMG -- 20!!!) in the last paragraph.

      It's still, in my opinion, a good assignment (and if leaving the page count to the last paragraph makes them read the whole thing -- well, that's a neat trick, isn't it?)

  2. Genius.
    I would have loved to have been Vonnegut's lover.