Use MLA and APA Templates in Composition Classes

I spent almost 30 years in aerospace technical writing before coming to Glendale to teach Freshman composition.  Aerospace technical writing uses Air Transport Association and military style guides that dictate not only format and presentation rules like APA and MLA do, but also dictate content requirements.  In business, the challenge in any new airplane program always was: How do we teach hundreds of technical writers (good subject matter/content experts) how to write in the new specification required by contract — quickly and cost-effectively?

Our answer in business was to use specification templates.  This template concept is transferable to academia. Imagine text book and Purdue OWL sample papers readily available in MS Word files.  Imagine that you are given an electronic copy and have free editing access to that copy.  Imagine putting YOUR content IN PLACE OF the content in the template while leaving the formatting intact, leaving only your own words and a properly-formatted paper in the end.

Using MLA and/or APA templates in a composition class can provide these benefits:

  • Save time and effort for students.
  • Save time and effort for instructors (~30% classroom time “saved” per a 2012 survey of Glendale English 101/102 instructors for a TYCA West presentation).
  • Conform to the style specification in the final paper – as good as or better than classes that do not use a template
  • Eliminate “arguments” over the right way to apply the style guide (the template is the style guide). If needed, work together as a class and change the template.
  • Eliminate worry about future revisions to/versions of the specification mid-term (the template is the style guide).
  • Add/reinforce MS Word skills for students.
  • Spend more time discussing good writing skills versus format details.
  • Create goodwill from students (“the instructor made this easy/wants me to succeed”)
  • Give students a proven sample/template they can use in their other college classes.
  • Prepare students better for what they will actually find in the work world.

While this template approach makes writing essays and reports easier for students (and correcting papers somewhat easier for instructors?), student success still relies heavily on student effort.  Note too that use of a template is not done in a void but rather in conjunction with the textbooks, Purdue OWL, and other sources.  The hardest thing to teach and reinforce, of course, is attention to detail – first time, every time.  This is something that you’ll need to constantly and continuously harp on, with or without a template.

My experience has also been that students appreciate the templates I provide and move more quickly and easily to writing good, compliant papers using templates.  My sense is that the resultant APA and/or MLA papers themselves are better written as well.  Of course, I’m also one of those guys that thinks all our modern productivity improvements will lead people to read more and be better informed.

Good thing hope springs eternal, eh?

A template for formatting? Give it a try — your students might just thank you!


2 thoughts on “Use MLA and APA Templates in Composition Classes”

  1. Hello,
    I’m just popping over from Yavapai College. I teach composition, including developmental writing, and I really like the idea of using templates. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks Laura. I water the idea of the template down when I teach developmental writing, but the core idea is there still. I use basically an MLA front page, then MS Word “templates” if you will first for the “creative” portion of the writing process (prewriting/invention heading — five topic ideas down to two, expand the two with three details each) and then one for the “Judgement” parts of the process (select one topic from your two, then: purpose for writing/thesis/audience, outline/arrangement, draft and final = four headings). Students use these “forms” in two separate Word files, in two separate assignments, one after the other allowing time for instructor feedback in-between, for each pattern of development taught. Seems to help students organize their ideas and learn the process better?


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