This was supposed to be last week's rant, but many of the later essays I marked were not quite so anger-inducing, so I didn't write this up. Oh well, I just handed the CD with all my marked essays on it to the course instructor, so now I'm free to rant away about really, really stupid things students did.
The essays I just finished marking were the result of a project, worth 30% of the course grade, in which the students chose a question relating to human use of plants (it's a botany course) and answered that question by reviewing relevant literature and interviewing one or more people with relevant experience (e.g. work in the industry). It's a pretty broad assignment, so I could have gotten 41 essays about 41 completely different things, but the projects clustered into a handful of (presumably suggested) topics, such as the use of cork stoppers in wine bottles, ornamental plants in municipal landscaping, and 'green roof' technology, in which large buildings have plants growing on their roofs for various purposes. Ho-hum, most were boring, as is to be expected. S.J. Gould, they ain't.
On with the rant. You'd think, perhaps naively, that when writing an essay worth so much of a course's mark, in a science course, some large-ish fraction of the students would take care to, I don't know, PROOFREAD their frickin' essay. I think, out of the 41 I marked, maybe three actually read their own work before sending it in. Common mistakes that these rather dim students made include, but are not limited to:
Use of apostrophes
Go here, read the poster, and try to learn something. Apostrophes NEVER are used for plurals, and are necessary for MOST possessive nouns and pronouns. Urgh.
Spaces and parentheses
Why, oh why, do so many students stick a space between a parethesis ( and the word following? And why do those SAME STUDENTS fail to insert a space between one and the last word of a sentence?
Question marks on non-questions
If you are describing a question, for example "I asked my interviewee how does he make wooden furniture", DO NOT put a question mark at the end of the sentence. You're not fucking asking the question here, you're STATING what question was asked. The voice inside my head (the other one, not the voice of Jwuieeblex the Faceless Lord) that reads your essay aloud raises the pitch of its voice at the end of that sentence, totally ruining whatever narrative effect you may have been trying to acheive.
Note that some semi-professional writers, such as Grrlscientist, do this too. Stop it!
Why is the humble comma so difficult to master? There are places that need one, and places that do not. I don't think it's really that difficult.
This is not technically incorrect, but does make your essay look stupid. And it's TWO words, not one.
Numerical citation style
We specified a particular citation style for the students. Yes, I know there are many different styles to choose from, and it can be confusing, especially if one suffers from an excess of certain fatty acids in one's brain. But numerical citation style is really, really easy, and it saves word-count. Is it hard for you to 'sell-out' and actually use the citation style we asked you to use?
Yes, English is rather silly with its plurals - goose/geese, mouse/mice, foot/feet, etc. There are also many, potentially unfamiliar, technical terms in scientific writing that have odd plurals, such as the ever-popular-to-fuck-up "species" and "genus/genera". But that's no excuse for the pain of mixed plurals I experienced.
"Wouldn't", "Isn't", "Don't" et cetera are legitimate expressions of the English language. But they don't belong in a formal essay (NB: rants are fine places for them).
Couple vs. couple of
Either expression is painfully colloquial when it appears in a formal essay. One, however, is technically incorrect - saying "couple" without "of" after and "a" before is wrong. Stop doing this.
Other words that don't belong (or don't exist)
"phone" - it's a "telephone". NOT ONE student got this right. About half of the essays described essays conducted "by phone". I WILL DESTROY YOU!
"info" - yes, two students actually wrote this instead of "information". YOU SUCK GOAT BALLS!
"pros and cons" - in what universe are these acceptable words? DIE PAINFULLY!
And finally, one student, in an essay about the use of wood in furniture construction, repeatedly misspelled it "would". Seriously. WTF!?!? I don't even understand how that's possible for a non-idiot/savant type writer. Not that that essay's presentation of math was up to 'Rainman' standards.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Monday Rant (delayed): Essay Idiocy
Posted by TheBrummell at 11:45 am
Labels: Grad School, Rants, Teaching
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Oh sweet Lamarck man, for some reason, during that entire rant I assumed you were still at SFU. Then it hit me that you're not in Hongcouver anymore and it made it all the more painful!
"We specified a particular citation style for the students. Yes, I know there are many different styles to choose from, and it can be confusing, especially if one suffers from an excess of certain fatty acids in one's brain. But numerical citation style is really, really easy, and it saves word-count. Is it hard for you to 'sell-out' and actually use the citation style we asked you to use?"
This is just a nitpick (having nothing to do with thine rant), but I absolutely HATE the numerical citation style. It requires me to flip back and forth (which is especially shitting during marking). Down with numbers!
Numerical citation style requires nothing of the sort - unless one's marking criteria are vastly different from ours.
How is the numerical citation style functionally distinct from the 'standard' scientific style of Author (Year)? If I really care about a particular cite, I'm going to have to flip to the back for "Johnson 1999" as much as I would for "(16)". Marking in MS Word, I'd have to use the "Find" function to check multiple references. With numbers it's much more obvious.
Having said that, I prefer Author (Year) for my own scientific writing. When writing, as opposed to reading, it requires less book-keeping than numerical.
The point of that part of the rant, of course, is that WE TOLD THEM EXACTLY WHAT TO DO and a large number of them fucked it up. Hence my jab at PKU.
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