TRUNK-or-Treat (no, that’s not a typo!)

The newest Halloween phrase for 2013 is not Trick-or-Treat; rather, it’s Trunk-or-Treat. I’ve seen these words on flyers, community bulletin boards, and local newspaper event calendars. What the term means is that instead of costumed ghosts, zombies, and (most horrifying) Miley Cyrus look-a-likes going door-to-door saying “trick-or-treat,” they are invited instead to show up at their school or town hall parking lot. Once they arrive,  parents, teachers, and neighbors open their car trucks filled with candy. The trunk-or-treaters go car to car with their orange and black goodie bags or pillowcases and gather the treats in a safe environment. It’s sort of like a tailgating party with family and friends that replaces trick-or-treating to strangers’ homes.

For some eerie reason befitting the season, this reminds me of academic writing. We (students, writing consultants, and instructors) spend time and energy trying to learn or teach  the “tricks” of academic writing. This may include better vocabulary, complex sentences, and intricate wording. As we take classes, we may discover a “treat” at one door or find out that no one is home block after block. The candy we do collect may have wrapping that is open or torn and we often have to toss out the suspicious chocolate bars and sticky lollipops. Just like the candy thrown away or pawned off at parents’ offices the next day, students often discard most of their awkward attempts at academic writing. Actually a trunk-or-treat method to academic writing may be better.  Here’s how it works:

1) No costume necessary—come as you are as a student and seeker of knowledge.

2) Raise your hand in class or make an appointment with a trusted professor. Ask him or her what constitutes good academic writing and request samples.

3) Read the journals in your major and pay attention to the language used.

4) Attend (in-person or online) a conference in your area of interest (or passion). Take notes, watch the podcasts, and collect all the handouts. You will learn the language of your major from those already presenting and publishing.

Then empty your goodie bag at home or in your dorm room in order to emulate, model, study, and practice the treats you gathered. This is not plagiarizing when you cite the original writers; this is dressing up like Dracula, not saying you are Dracula. This trunk-or-treat approach to learning professional writing pops the tailgate and reveals the truth about academic prose from those we know and trust.  And, don’t forget to share what you learned with your peers. In fact, I’ll trade you a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for a Jolly Rancher lollipop.

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