Letters from the dorm: Treat life like an academic essay


In a world of social media, too many people prioritise emotional reactions over information

Cyril Ip |

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A considerable amount of my time at university is spent writing. Writing has long been a personal hobby of mine – but writing an academic piece is very different.

An academic essay is not an Instagram caption, a Facebook post or a blog entry; there are guidelines that must be strictly followed. While that may seem obvious, many students struggle to adapt to this scholarly style of writing when they begin university, because of the freedom and looseness they are previously used to. 

An essay requires quoting, referencing, formatting, and a full bibliography at the very end. In other words, every idea that you propose must be correctly backed up with theories, evidence, facts and figures.

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I spend so much time writing university essays that these academic practises have seeped into my day-to-day life. Now, even in casual conversations, I try to educate myself thoroughly before I give my thoughts and opinions, so that they are “backed up” – and I wish society was this way. With the emergence of countless social media platforms where we can speak our piece with no real consequences, we have become a bit too reckless. We prioritise our desire to tell the world about our reactions over our obligation to find out all the facts of a situation. Impulsively reacting to headlines and buzzwords is non-academic, unprofessional and ultimately, irresponsible. It also encourages equally impulsive and misinformed reactions from others. It’s a domino effect.

In an essay, if your arguments are not “backed up”, you will not be credited for making them. But things are very different in real life; a deluded point of view that is widely shared will have the same – or even greater – effect as an informed one. That’s why celebrities can say certain things and their huge following will accept it; they are “credited” regardless. 

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Furthermore, in essay writing, you gradually realise that the ideas that you thought you came up with all by yourself have already been written and rewritten thousands of times by thinkers who came decades or even centuries before you. That teaches you to give credit where it’s really due – often, it’s not due to you, or even to the scholar who inspired you, but to the person who inspired the scholar.

If we apply what we do for our coursework to real life, there will be less fake news, less idolising of celebrities, and less unsolicited opinions. Try to imagine that your marks will go down if you fail to do what you’re supposed to: research, and reference, reflect.