I read a very interesting and entertaining paper during one of my consultations today. It was about Seinfeld and some obsessive fans (not a huge Seinfeld watcher myself, I still found the paper hilarious). Not only was it interesting and intertaining, the paper was also pretty well written--organized well, flowed smoothly, had a clear focus, etc. For the most part all the components of a well written paper were there.
So what was difficult about this consultation?
At the end of the consultation he asked, "So, do you think this fits the assignment? Does it sound like an ethnography?"
I can't lie and tell him it does, because that certainly wouldn't help him, his paper, or his grade. But how do I nicely tell him that his wonderfully entertaining, well written paper probably doesn't quite work as an ethnography? I hate being the bearer of bad news. He had obviously spent some time on the paper, he seemed to really like the paper...and now I have to answer his question in the negative. It just kind of made me feel like the bad guy.
Anyway, I of course told him the truth. We looked over the assignment together, and fortunately his paper wasn't a total loss as an ethnography. Seinfeld fanatics can certainly serve as a group to write an ethnography about. In order to turn his essay into an ethnography, I suggested he include more scene in his paper. Instead of just telling the reader what his interviewees said, I suggested he show this to his audience by describing what this group looks like. How do they joke? What does their body language look like? How do they sound? Basically I suggested that he write some scenes that illustrate the five senses so that the reader can really start to see what this Seinfeld loving group looks and acts like as a sub-culture.
The consultation ended positively; in fact he never gave me the impression that he was upset with my remarks. Still, for a moment I felt like the bad guy. What do you do in a situation where you have real bad news? Like, what if the paper doesn't fit the assignment at all and you have tell the writer to more or less start all over? What's the best way to go about being the bearer of bad news? Sugar coated? Quick, honest, and to the point?