Christmas and Grading

20 12 2009

While most people at this time of year are gaily splashing cups of eggnog, traipsing tinsel around a tree, and dreaming of sugar plums, I am about my annual ritual of grading final research papers.  My Christmas ritual always finds me with green pen in hand (for hardcopy papers), or, as is more likely, typing feedback comments onto electronic copies of papers.

Grading got me thinking about the quality of papers one often reads today.  With the advent of computers and word processing, I originally believed a new era, a paradisiacal age, had come.  There would be a pullulation of perfect papers  produced perpetually (a sentence for lovers of alliteration).  Alas, not so.

And, why so?

I think Max Atkinson has his finger on a reason.  This quote is from his blog:

The trouble is that professional-looking fonts make a first draft look just as finished and professional as the final draft used to look after you’d been through quite a lot of stages – at each of which there would be further scope for correction, editing and stylistic improvement.

The process by which I wrote papers BC (Before Computers) followed more or less something like the system below.

  1. Write out the paper in long hand (Do people even know what long hand means today?)
  2. Type out a rough draft
  3. Mark, edit, rewrite in the margins (Carry over to the back if necessary)
  4. Retype (Often coming up with new ideas and phrasing)
  5. Step three again, but with fewer marks and corrections
  6. Final draft (I know; I was responsible for the death of many trees in the BC era).

At each stage, one could see the paper taking shape and looking better (both physically and content-wise).

The editing process on screen does not have the same effect as the above process.  People today seem content with a first draft that looks complete and professional on screen.  Yet editing continues to be a key for good writing.

My Grandfather’s Underwood No. 5 Typewriter

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