Monday, December 01, 2008

Things That Annoy Me, Student Writing Edition

  • Words don't just mean whatever you decide they mean because they have multiple syllables. Indeed, sometimes a word with fewer syllables actually means the thing that you're trying to say. And if you use the multisyllabic wrong word, that doesn't make you sound smarter than if you use the monosyllabic right one. Indeed, using the right word will, always, make you sound smarter than using a word incorrectly.
  • All of those marks that we use to punctuate things? Yeah, they actually mean something, too, and you really do have to use them. Like apostrophes. They're important in all sorts of ways. You can't just leave them out. Seriously.
  • If I wanted to read what everybody else has said about a thing, I would seriously go and read what everybody else has said. Please stop using the critics to speak for you. Please.
  • Is a question more effective in expressing a position than a statement? Does it add more interest to the prose? Why don't all sentences end with question marks? Do rhetorical questions make me want to kill myself?
  • "Feel" is a word that actually does mean something. I know. That's crazy talk. Let's just note that it does not mean "believe," "think," "assert," "suggest," or any of those other words that one uses "feel" sloppily to avoid.
That said, the papers that I'm nearly done with grading are actually pretty good. Good ideas, risks taken, things learned between the last paper and this one. My students are not total jerks. But the above list? Yes, it remains active as a list of things that annoy me. I have a dream that someday I will stamp all of these things out and that my students will write coherently when they have good ideas.

9 comments:

~profgrrrrl~ said...

If I wanted to read what everybody else has said about a thing, I would seriously go and read what everybody else has said. Please stop using the critics to speak for you. Please.

I see this problem all the time in first drafts of dissertation proposals. All. the. bloody. time.

life_of_a_fool said...

Is this a matter of degree? Or disciplinary differences? Because I am sick of reading students' completely unfounded opinions about things. I assign reading for a reason, people. Use it. And dismissing "empirical evidence" (quotes in original) is not o.k. because it differs from your opinion. (that said, papers that just string together quotes from other people: still not good, but at least they've cleared opened the book).

Dr. Crazy said...

I think it's a matter of degree more than disciplinary differences. It's not that I don't want students to offer context for their views (I do)or to situate their views within the scholarly conversation (I do). But I want them to use scholarly sources as *context* not as *their paper.* Many of them seem to want to assert *other people's ideas* and to *present them as their own* - not to dismiss them as "empirical evidence" (which is astonishing and awful as I imagine reading that) but rather to just agree wholesale without engaging. While it's true that at least the ones who string quotes together have opened books, it's not clear to me that they've actually thought. That said, a student who merely *reacts* without citing anything hasn't clearly thought either. What I'm looking for is *actual thoughts* that support and substantiate those thoughts with primary and secondary source material. This would seem obvious, but my students seem surprised when I ask for this.

Barbara said...

I think the wrong multisyllabic word thing is due, at least in part, to the use of word processing software. At least, my students seem to rely on the thesaurus in Word, and have no concept of connotation. So if they check the thesaurus, they think *any* of those words in the list mean the same thing. The utter confusion on their little faces when I try to explain that this is not the case keeps me smiling for ages - until I have to grade more damn papers! (I have about 40 sitting on my desk right now).
Barb

The History Enthusiast said...

I graded a ton over break. My favorite error was the student who put an apostrophe S on every word that was plural, regardless of whether the word was actually possessive. I corrected the same error on his previous paper, but that was just for my own edification, apparently. I didn't actually want him to fix the problem, 'cause that would just be nonsense (insert eye roll here).

In all honesty, though, this last round of papers were decent. I didn't want to poke my eyes out with a fork, so it wasn't all bad.

Anastasia said...

"Do rhetorical questions make me want to kill myself?"

I know I'm not supposed to answer that but I bet I could hazard a guess. :)

elustaz said...

Not only do I feel you on all of these, but I am forced (mostly) to grit my teeth and play through, since the course I'm teaching now isn't listed in the catalog as "writing-intensive." If they commit these errors, then all I really have the authority (...or the strength...) to do is refer them to the writing center; I already have my hands full trying to explain theory. I've been beaten in the face so often with bad punctuation that I've almost lost the ability to recognize the correct variety.

helenesch said...

My latest annoyance is with students who use the word "feminist" as if it were plural (as in "many feminist believe that...") At first I thought this was a mere typo (an "s" was omitted), since "feminist" is obviously not plural. But I've seen this in too many papers for it to be a mere mistake--I think they fail to hear the difference the "s" makes (when spoken), so they can't imagine the words are spelled differently.

I'm shocked by this, but I probably shouldn't be...

Shaun Huston said...

Jumping in a little late, but the tendency for students to write about class material purely in terms of their likes and dislikes and visceral reactions has seemed very marked this term. Seriously, I can't tell you how many papers I've read this term, and from one class in particular, where I've been presented with a list of quotes from a text where a student simply asserts, "I like this quote because it affirms what I already think" (that's almost literal). And, of course, the quote, in proper context, often doesn't actually mean what the writer claims it does, which is similar to the first bullet re: words not meaning what someone wishes they do.