The Issue with Writing Formats

Margaret Hoff, Editor-in-Chief

There is one thing that all students, no matter their interests can relate to: writing papers. No matter what classes you are in, you have more than likely had to write quite a few essays in your time. When writing these essays there are often certain formats that we must follow for our grade. It can be nice to have a format to follow, so you know what you are supposed to be doing. With these formats, many issues can arise though. Mainly, the fact that they are continuously changing.

This would not be an issue if we were retaught the format every year, but at a certain point teachers do not have time to go over all the new updates. Students also do not have the time to teach themselves the updates. Plus, sometimes online help websites for formats that are supposed to be updated are not, and students end up using the wrong format. Websites like Purdue Owl can be incredibly helpful to students, but the directory can be very confusing. Many students may rely on a general search as well, which may yield the wrong answer, or at least an outdated answer. All in all, it can be hard to know exactly what formatting you need to use, even if you research it.

Many times these updates seem very small, but they can be very contradictory to the last update as well. This is why students have such a hard time keeping up with them. One year MLA will say to have the period in a citation after the quotations, and the next year it will tell us to have it in the quotations. Works cited pages are continually changing as well, every year they are different. As students, we are often not aware of these changes and lose points. I remember my freshman year being taught all the basics of MLA, and understanding it, only for the format to change the next year. I was not aware of this, as none of my teachers had even told me. So, you could imagine my surprise when I received a paper back that had lost a lot of points due to formatting. 

Alysha Gunn, a senior at Alliance High School,  had a lot to say on this topic. Her first statement was something that may resonate with a lot of students. “I don’t know what is being expected of me when the formats change so much.” This is very true because we are not given new expectations when these formats change, so we cannot be sure of what we are supposed to be doing. She also agreed that it makes it harder for her to be sure of what grades her papers may receive. “I mean I jumped from one teacher to another and I had no idea what I was doing. My grade dropped a letter. It’s very frustrating.” 

There is also another issue that arises with writing formats in high schools as well. The only format that you will probably ever write with, no matter the subject, is MLA. This is a problem, because many students who decide to pursue science or history will have no idea how to write in other formats. Chicago and APA style are very common in those fields, but high school teachers who teach those subjects often skip them. This is understandable, as they have other things to teach, but many students may be confused in their higher education. 

Writing according to a tedious format can be frustrating in itself, but when things are continuously changing, it becomes much harder. As students we already have a lot on our plate and do not have time to teach ourselves on the side. If teachers could even take a day out of class to go over the changes in format, I am sure it would be helpful. But really, it would be much more helpful if the people who create these formats could choose a standard and stick with it for a while, rather than changing it every year.