Monday, September 11, 2017

Why I don't mark every error

Some of my students figure I will mark every comma problem, spelling error, and capitalization mistake. Then all they have to do to revise the paper (and get a perfect grade) is to put in the commas where I put the marks.

Wrong.

Here are just a few of the reasons I will not mark absolutely everything on your papers.
  1. The definition of "good writing" is much larger than "no comma problems." You need to know that a good paper says something smart, says it clearly, and backs it up with quality evidence.
  2. If I mark everything, you never learn the skill of proofreading your own paper.
  3. After I've read about a hundred pages of student writing, I start to miss things.
  4. If you submit a "revision" that is simply fixing all the grammar items I have marked, you have not revised anything. I did the revision. (And if your paper had other problems, a simple run of repairing commas has not made it much better.)

A few other things to know about grading

  • Some errors annoy readers more than others. I can probably skip over a simple misspelling (perceive or percieve?), especially if it only shows up once. If, however, every plural in the paper has an inappropriate apostrophe, it's only one kind of error, but my brain begins to melt. Put that together with some other third-grader error (not capitalizing "I" when it is the first person pronoun, for example), and I have a very difficult time respecting the paper.
  • The midnight papers are always bad. Slamming something together in the last hour or two before it is due deprives you of the time you need to reflect, copyedit, and proofread. You should expect the midnight paper to be a mess that gets a terrible grade.
  • The more difficult the content, the more errors you will make. Expect it. You might be able to sail through a "what I did last summer" paper, but a critique and analysis of a piece of academic writing will bring out all the elementary school mistakes.
  • I expect you to grow. You will get some mercy at the beginning of English 100, but the papers at the end of the course should be better. If you still cannot get the apostrophe into a contraction or find the difference between their and there, I will assume you did not learn many skills here. And if (as actually happened), you get to the end of English 101 and cannot capitalize the first letter of your hometown's name, I will assume you just don't care about submitting a quality product.
  • A stupid paper with great spelling is still a stupid paper.
    A smart, well-written paper with terrible spelling and grammar becomes a stupid paper.
    It's like driving a car. If you do a great job of steering and braking, but can never find your destination, you are not yet a good driver. If your sense of direction and map reading skills are wonderful, but you can't steer or brake too well, we don't call you a good driver either.