Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brutal "Honesty"?

I recently got a paper returned to me in one of the classes I'm taking at the undergraduate level.

Now, I realize this is college, and professors (especially the ones with tenure) are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want in the classroom in the way of lecturing, grading, etc.

However, I thought the comments written on my paper by this particular professor, who I won't name, were a tiny bit more brutal than necessary to get his point across. I'd lump them in the category of "unconstructive criticism." They are as follows:

"You really have a great deal of work to do on your writing STYLE. Order the book, "Elements of Style," by a guy called Strunk. Read the book and take the advice. You are a fine writer but your style is absolutely atrocious. This needs work."

In other words....

I'm not even defending the paper I wrote. I despise the class, literally could not care less about the subject matter I wrote on, and probably spent a grand total of 2 hours on it.

I just think there has got to be a better, more diplomatic way of letting your student know that you thought their paper was the worst thing you've ever read. Shouldn't respect go both ways in a classroom?

Like I said, maybe the paper really was shit, but never in my entire academic career have I been told so bluntly that the way I write is "atrocious."

Even more curious to me is that, given the comments I received, surely this paper should have been awarded a big, red "F," right?

He gave me an 84. That's a B.

Thank god the end of the semester is only 3 weeks away.


  1. I'm sorry, how can you be both a fine writer and have poor style? And doesn't that make style completely ? I have never in my life heard of a professor criticizing (bashing) style, particularly since it's not even any kind of creative writing course. In that case, it might make a of sense. Boo hiss.

  2. Oh, this happens to me all the time in grad school, and i have read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (it was assigned for my first grad class).

    But yeah same thing. My thesis committee flat out told me "Your ideas are good. Your source material is good. The history is good. Your writing style and grammar are atrocious, cliched and need to be worked on." The thing is I am an A student. The vast majority of my proffies have no problem with my writing. My thesis committee had a huge problem with it.

    Also, I wouldn't be surprised if a grad student wrote that comment. I know my proffies have their TA's do all the undergrad grading.

  3. @lydia--- Nope, definitely not a creative course. It's african american literature. He's just over-the-top and unnecessarily rude.

    @coyote rose-- I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one, haha. I'm a grad student, just taking this class at undergrad because I didn't need grad credit for it. Also an A student. Unfortunately, I think this came straight from the professor. He's just a mean, mean guy.

  4. Well, you just have to remember most professors are PhDs and those PhDs are usually not in social skills or human interaction. ;)

  5. I'm getting a dual public and foreign policy degree and they are brutal here. Forge ahead.

  6. That's a pretty good score for a paper that sucked haha!

    Now, I'm no professor or lecturer but I do mark undergraduate lab reports and by the time I've gone through 20 rubbish ones, my comments start to get less and less constructive and more "what the fuck are you doing?!" Not literally, of course. But, at least then they will remember my comments and hopefully do better next time which is the point.

  7. I had a Prof at Waterloo who would tear us apart for everything except regurgitating his own ideas back at us. Though it wasn't what I was supposed to be learning, what I found the life lesson useful.

    The Elements of Style is good, I actually just picked up "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser and am really enjoying it.

  8. Wow... yeah, that's really brutal, especially on a B paper.

    I'm taking online classes and am always a little nervous about what I'll get back simply because my professors only know me by my writing style.


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