Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bad professor, good professor

Like just about everyone else on the blogroll, I am grading and having some Sweeney Todd fantasies about running amok with the red pen.

Apparently, though, there's an internal mechanism that translates Bad Professor thoughts into Good Professor words.

Bad professor thinks: "Your paragraph is so chaotic that I have no idea what you're trying to say."
Good professor writes: "A stronger focus in this paragraph would make your point more clearly."

Bad professor thinks: "If you cut out the wordiness, you could take a Caribbean cruise with the time you save."
Good professor writes: "Using active verbs and specific nouns (instead of words like "aspect") make your writing more vivid."

Bad professor thinks: "George Eliot won't care if you praise her writing with empty words like 'wonderful' and 'full of human interest,' and neither will I. These are page-filling words, not meaningful ones."
Good professor writes: "Can you make a more specific point about Eliot's writing and support it with evidence from the text?"

And so on. Have any more?


dance said...

Bad professor thinks: jeez, does your writing have to be so boring?
good professor writes: it's okay to let your personality show, even in academic writing.

Superb idea!

St. Eph said...

And, on the flip side:

Bad professor thinks: Dear lord, you sound like a gum-smacking 12-year-old talking on a cell phone on a city bus.
Good professor writes: Establishing a more serious academic tone in your writing would help support your argumentative authority.

Great examples! I especially like the last one.

Amanda said...

Wow. I just flashed back to all the comments I got on my papers during my first attempt at college. I wish my professors had written what they really meant. I'd probably be a much better writer...

undine said...

Amanda, a lot of times those don't mean any more than what the Good Professor side says, but every once in a while the Bad Professor thoughts do kick in.

Amanda said...

Yeah...if I had to constantly grade papers like the ones I used to hand in...*shudders*...I'd be Bad Professor more often than not!

heu mihi said...

My comments all just sound snarky in my head but come out (I hope) more neutrally. The following sentence, for example, can be read with a variety of inflexions.

"What exactly are you arguing here?"

In keeping with the post, however, here's one that keeps coming up.

Bad professor thinks: If I have to read one more paper that "argues" that Virgil influenced Dante--the most obvious fucking point in the world, motherfucker--I will bite through my keyboard.

Good professor writes: You quite accurately point out that Virgil influenced Dante's composition of the DC. Now consider the implications of that influence. Why is it significant? How does it help us to understand Dante's text?

Ahistoricality said...

Bad Professor thinks: Now that you've repeated all the textbook pages that are indicated in the index, did you learn anything?
Good professor writes: Some good points, but lacks depth.

Lynn said...

This post reminds me of one of my finals paper in grad school. I am now able to imagine -

Bad GA thinks: What drivel, blah, blah, blah

Good GA thinks: Well written, good research topic, paper lacks focus

The good GA won, I got a B+ accompanied the Good GA comments. Though I still wonder how drivel gets a B+ (and yes, it was drivel).

undine said...

Dance--ah yes, voice! Too much or the wrong kind, and you get what st. eph is talking about; too little, and it's what you describe. St. Eph, great translation! On the last example: sometimes I think my students have studied with a 19th-century book reviewer because I get so much of this praise-for-the-author stuff. I try to tell them that the world has already decided that Charles Dickens is a pretty good writer; that's not an argument that they need to spend a lot of time on in their papers.

Lanette Cadle said...

Bad professor thinks: How on earth can anyone call bell hooks "he" and argue from the point that "he" can't say such things because they are politically incorrect?
Good professor writes: The bio for the article gives good information about the writer, her background. and how much authority she has in her specialty. It's always a good idea to read it.

Tone is so important. Because we work with words every day, we can get caught up in an especially good piece of wordplay that uses irony or sarcasm. The trick is to see real people on the other side of that page, not faceless students. Real people deserve helpful comments.

Anonymous said...

Bad professor thinks: "So?"
Good professor writes: "And?"

undine said...

heu mihi, I tried out that phrase aloud, emphasizing different words each time, and you're right: it's all in the intonation. Virgil influenced Dante? You don't say :-)!

ahistoricality, I sometimes wonder if they think that if the index doesn't cover it, it's not important.

lynn: maybe drivel to you now, but think how it might have looked in comparison with the OTHER papers that the GA got.

techsophist, that's a good way to get them to read the headnote. Why on earth wouldn't they do that if they're writing a paper on the person?

anonymous, I think that is all the bad/good professor idea in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I'm the Bad TA. From an e-mail sent to me by a student:

"I was disappointed that I did not receive the same level insight in the evaluation of my final paper. There was only one comment on Page 2, which read 'confused.'"

(But it WAS confused!)