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The Fictitious Term Paper

The Story of "The Fictitious Term Paper"


Steven C. Scheer

I wrote "The Fictitious Term Paper" for the 10th annual Mid-America Conference on Composition sponsored by the University of Southern Indiana in the fall of 1986. Professor Barbara Weaver, then the president of the Indiana Teachers of Writing, heard it and invited me to Indianapolis to read the paper again at the Indiana Teachers of Writing Conference in the fall of that same year. The paper was well-received in Indianapolis, too, but then (as if that wasn't enough) I was asked to read it once more at the banquet when the banquet speaker couldn't make it to Indianapolis from Chicago because of heavy storms. This was my first time as a "keynote speaker" (even if just by default). The experience was most gratifying. Particularly because Barbara Cambridge, the editor of The Journal of Teaching Writing, instantly accepted the paper for publication.

In the years that immediately followed the reading and the publication of "The Fictitious Term Paper" a number of people have written to me to tell me that they tried it, too, and that it worked for them as well as it has always worked for me. The year following my presentation at Indianapolis, at the next Indiana Teachers of Writing Conference, a team of young instructors from Indiana University reported that they had also tried a version of this assignment. I happened to have been in the audience at this presentation. The result was that someone pointed me out as the inventor of the fictitious term paper, so I had to stand up and take a bow. That was a bit of a taste of what it must be like to be famous (says he with a sheepish grin).

By the time I wrote "The Fictitious Term Paper" I had been using the assignment at Saint Meinrad College for about 10 years. I had also used the assignment at the University of Southern Indiana for about 20 years all told (until the school year of 1997-98). All in all, then, I had been assigning fictitious term papers to literally hundreds upon hundreds of students. I am glad to place both the paper and a sample fictitious term paper (one of many I wrote throughout the years) on my Web site. I am adding the sample fictitious term paper as an appendix to the paper itself because when "The Fictitious Term Paper" was accepted for publication before a live audience in Indianapolis, many people thought it would be a good idea to include one with the published version. Barbara Cambridge felt that the sample would be redundant (since the paper itself makes it rather clear what a fictitious paper should be like), so she didn't publish the appendix. I have decided to include it here anyway, if for no other reason than because my students had always found it fun to read. I must add, though, that on many an occasion students wrote more amusing ones than any of my "models." Needless to say, I hope this idea will now have a second life on the Internet.

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Copyright 2000 - 2001 © by Steven C. Scheer. All rights reserved.

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