Kiki is having her first close encounter with an MLA formatted research paper. In traditional student fashion she read piles of interesting sources and kept track of none of them. Then she discovered upon writing the paper that half of her research was not applicable and needed to be replaced by completely different research which branched off of the applicable research. Unfortunately she was out of time, so instead of making a beautiful and well-supported paper, she had to cobble together what she could from the pieces she had. All of this went with a sound track of “This is hard, and boring, and I don’t like it.” Yes honey. I know. Get it done anyway.
On one level it was highly amusing to watch Kiki wrestle with the strict structures of an academic research paper. I remember those struggles so well. I made the same mistakes. Unfortunately when I tried to help Kiki jump ahead to the cobble-together stage of essay production she kept getting frustrated with me. She was angry and frustrated with the format because she did not understand it or the reasons for it. I look at her assignment and the shape of it is so clear, so simple. I can comprehend it whole. For Kiki the assignment is all muddled and confusing. Not surprising really. I was near the end of college before I really comprehended how to research and why research papers mattered.
A part of me looks at Kiki’s assignment and thinks what an amazing research paper I could write now. I would draft early, go back to my research, draft again, and dig far down for primary sources. The beauty of the form and the importance of correct citations seem clear to me now. I’m unlikely ever to do it. I do not need more projects. Also I suspect I would discover that at their heart most research papers have far more muddle-through and cobble-together than academic researchers would wish.
In the end Kiki learned valuable lessons about research format. She learned that when she goes off the beaten path for a topic, she makes more work for herself as she tries to figure out how to make that topic fit the assignment. She learned that sometimes getting things done takes precedence over making them perfect. Most of all she learned how to get the thing done even though much of the work is tedious. And she has begun learning all of these things at a much younger age than I did. I call that a win.