The Fit Student – A Case for Cherry Picking

As an undergrad, I wrote a semester-long paper. In that paper, I cited many graduate-level books. I put citations on cue cards, heaped inside a box. When my professor saw my cue cards, she grinned, pleased, and said, “You cherry pick.” Cherries taste sweet, so I smiled back. But she sugar-coated her rotten cherries.

She said I didn’t capture the author’s meaning in my cherry chomp-down. I merely picked quotes that sweetened my view. But students’ views rarely matter. We parrot the scholars instead, afraid to speak our minds—afraid to get F’s from the academic thought police. So, can we ever craft original papers?

Tools like metaphors, analogies, and humor fuel original research, says Roberta B. Ness, author of Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas. Use these tools to shape your views. Let your life stories inspire you, too. Yes, stir the pot: cherry pick quotes while capturing intended meanings. Smash those meanings; blend them up; pit them against your own. Build your P.O.V. out of the sweet stuff.

Yes, your life—and your views—matter. You didn’t read Critical Theory in Linguistics to say your first “Goo-goo.” You didn’t skim Mechanical Principles in Higher Education to use the toilet. Instead, you learned from life. So, cherry pick from scholars, while absorbing their gist. Whip-up cherry treats only French chefs dare to bake.

Jokes, metaphors, and analogies mesh well with originality—and with making friends. Edie Lush and Charlotte McDougall show how to befriend HR managers through metaphors and more in How to Speak with Confidence in Public: Concise Introductions to the Topics that Matter:

• When telling dull tales, liven them up with metaphors, analogies, and similes.

• When talking about yourself, avoid jargon. Instead, paint visuals through stories. Create pictures with few words.

• And don’t lay out three dry points. Instead, personalize your stories. Personalized stories skyrocket “your status” (p. 63).

• Also, use “I” not “we” when talking about yourself. If you use “we,” list the names behind the “we.”

• Often, when we use “we,” it sounds like we’re hiding something—like we’re afraid to own the action. So use “I” instead of “we” wherever it makes sense.

• And craft a story for each point you make about yourself. Only you can tell your story. So, let your stories reveal your personality.

• Good stories can come from painful life events. “Embrace the suck,” say the Navy Seals. And then tell the tale.

• When you use dry facts, add emotions to them. As an example, say something like, “The proposed increase in small business taxes sparked fear in me and my family of entrepreneurs.” Fear, surprise, anger—such emotional words make the dry delightful.

• When tempted to babble, stay quiet. Or make your point quickly. “Less is more” (p. 57).

So, cherry pick and pick apart authors’ views that flavor your own. Just let the reader know you got the authors’ gist. (But, beware: the fruit of personal tales has yet to ripen in higher ed. Ask your prof if you can support your breakthroughs with spatters of life-stories.)

Now, mash those cherries. Make something new—like a case for my cherry-picking coup.