Monday, December 10, 2007

On Comments, Criticism, and How to Use Both.

I'm back online, and I'm making my way through the backlog of papers which came in over the weekend and on which I owe you comments. By the way, let me know if, for whatever reason, you haven't received comments on earlier papers. With these, just send me another invitation to join you again as collaborator and add comments. As my classes wrap up this week here in Richmond, I'll have more time to devote to going through your papers and offering comments.

A quick note on my comments: if you're expecting a paper on which I've bled red, you'll be disappointed. What you'll see in my comments is that I'll concentrate on how to improve your writing process and on what you've done well in terms of handling the rhetoric. I'm trying here to give you advice which will have the biggest impact on making you a better writer and communicator. Often, I will make a suggestion as to what I would do in the next revision, and less frequently, I'll point you to surface level issues on which you need to work.

Years ago, I learned if you give a student too much information, they'll pick and choose which pieces of advice to which to give their attention, or, worse, they won't do anything; so, I now leave fewer comments, and I try to make these comments as useful as possible.

In other words, I want you to think about everything I have to say. I'm trying to help you write, not judging you as a person. If I say you're doing something well, I'm not just being kind. Consider adding the skill in which I compliment you to your memory and continue to use it in future writing. If I point to the next largest issue to revise, remember my hierarchy for advice is: 1) thesis, 2) focus, 3) development, 4) organization, 5) how you incorporate the thinking of others; 6) tone, 7) paragraphing, 8) word choice and awkward phrasing; 9) surface level issues. If I've skipped over one of these areas, chances are you're doing OK with it, or the mistakes you may have made don't distract from your paper's effectiveness as much as the area on which I do concentrate.

Other things to remember about my comments:

1) You are the author, not me. I'm offering criticism and advice. I'm working as a good editor would. You decide if you agree with my input or not. Just remember, my advice is that of someone who's spent an adult life focusing on the issues I'm talking about. You'd be paying much bigger bucks if you were paying my consulting fees, and folks pay those fees to hear me drone on.
2) I make mistakes. Sorry, but it's true. I'm human, so are you. Read everything I or anyone else says with charity and a grain (or a cup) of salt; but, value the honest criticism of others more than gold. In our culture, we tend to avoid confrontation to a fault, even if someone would be better off hearing a less than flattering comment. The value I place on honest criticism is one reason I valued the discussion I read of my and the class's faults near the beginning. I'll use these comments to improve the next section I teach. I want you to learn to take criticism in the same vein. Too many good writers are so concerned with avoiding criticism, they'll never publish their work or they get writer's block. Writers write texts audiences read. Audiences can be tough. Get over it, or, better, accept it as a tool you can use.
3) If something I say doesn't make sense, write. I'm here to offer a better explanation, and you're paying me for the privilege of teaching. Make me earn my bucks.
4) If you have a question about an aspect of the paper on which I don't comment, write me with it.
5) Finally, remember I'm criticizing your writing, not you as a person. Chances are, even if I think your writing isn't the best, I'll read you with charity, and I'd still like you as a person. See two above.
6) Have patience. Treating you like a real writer and working as an editor would means it takes time for me to form my comments. If a comment is time critical, as always..l

Also, this morning I posted a rather long entry on the drafting phase of the writing process and the problem of procrastination. Make sure to read it and pull off any information which might help update your knowledge of the outcomes.

Finally, don't forget to do your bit in the discussion of the rhetoric of dating. I'm hoping you'll learn a little about dating, and I'm hoping the discussion will give you some major insight into rhetoric.

As always call or write.

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