This year I am happy to report that a number of the papers we received were quite impressive. The papers that earned top prizes among the university students, in particular, are in some cases far beyond what I would have expected from a university student in terms of both the level of the research and the quality of the writing itself; they were much closer to what I would expect from someone already in graduate school working on an advanced degree.
Even when looking at the way the papers were on the whole formatted, while there were certainly problems in some cases, the percentage of papers that were properly formatted was higher than it has been in the past.
However, the judges also identified what seemed to be new trends that might be cause for concern. The current generation of students is a generation that grew up with the internet, and this generation is therefore quite skilled when it comes to accessing information online. That in itself is a good thing, but its consequences in the context of academic writing have the potential to be both good and bad. On the one hand, students now are able now to access high quality academic sources quickly and easily, and many students have been able to integrate the information found in these high quality sources into their papers. On the other hand, however, while it is now easier than every to find a lot of information on any topic with a quick google search, much of that information is from sources that are not sufficiently academic in nature, and in quite a few cases the information found in these sources is of such low quality that it simply cannot be trusted. Many of the papers that were submitted this year were written by students who were aware of this distinction, and who were therefore able to focus on the high-quality academic sources and disregard the less reliable sources, but not all students were able to successfully make this distinction. And even among the papers that impressed us, some were more journalistic, and in that sense less academic, than we would have liked.
Nevertheless, as I stated at the beginning, on the whole the judges were quite impressed with the papers we received this year. We are quite hopeful that this trend will continue in the future.