College Writing Tips: Never List

My teaching career began in the fall of 1997 when a faculty member experienced a heartache about a week before the semester began. During the intervening years between then and today, my peers, colleagues, and even those in business & industry, have noticed a tremendous decline in people’s ability to write.

Recently, I spent many hours grading writing assignments. These writing assignments ran the gamut from “short answers” to “essay” to 3 page response-type papers. My response papers are based on listening to two podcasts. One podcast is an economics podcast discussing the geographic traits of snack food. The other podcast is a mesmerizing account of a couple of Americans traveling throughout a South Asian country.

The more I read, the more patterns in writing emerged. Not just patterns in though; writing involves considerable thinking. I tend to reason writing reveals thinking, how a person thinks, how a person organizes thoughts and information. Writing reveals a considerable amount of information about a person, and I can understand how writing makes people nervous. I’m nervous merely writing this post, but I’m dealing with it.

Writing for higher education doesn’t have to involve the level of stress people attach to writing assignments. Understanding some simple concepts, requirements, goals, and using the education which was provided from ages 6-18 (maybe 16 in Kentucky) can alleviate anxiety surrounding writing.

I am going to walk through some of the common errors I find in writing. Not only will I identify errors but I’ll explain how to adjust thinking processes to help direct attention to formulating better academic responses to writing assignments.

College Writing Tip Eight: Never list

I’m not sure what has happened in grades 9-12. I suspect the teachers are to blame. Why do I suspect this? Because the vast majority of my students are Education majors. Over the last year, my worst offenders of writing problems and cheating/plagiarism have come from Education majors. While I know honorable and respectable Education majors exist, I wonder about the vast majority. I personally have had both current and former Education students admit to cheating and plagiarism. To me, being caught in unethical behavior as an Education student should be immediate grounds for removal from the program. Reality slaps the student on the hands, at worst, and tells them “don’t do it again.” Don’t do what again? Get caught? Or, don’t cheat?

In an earlier post, I blame my peers, people my age, who loved the social atmosphere of high school, yet fought against the intellectual expansion those four years were supposed to offer. My peers then have engaged in the evisceration of rules and policies, from corporal punishment, the reduction or banning of homework, to the dilution of assessment criteria.

That the student did not follow directions is irrelevant, or their writing is full of misspellings, comma splicing, and is borderline phonetic in structure, is their content appropriate for the topic?

Look, I will be the first one to admit I enjoy a bit of subversion, of out-of-the-box thinking. I not only want out-of-the-box thinking, but I want the box destroyed. However, rules of coherent communication still need to be followed. Faithful communication, communication with 100% fidelity, no signal loss, a maximum of signal-to-noise ratio, can only be maintained if communication rules are adhered to, and those rules include following directions, validating spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

A question states,

“Discuss HIV/AIDs infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Provide at least five reasons why rates continue to remain high in some countries.”

Here is what faculty do not want to see:

  1. Education
  2. The Government
  3. Sex ed
  4. War
  5. Conflict

Can you see the problem with the above? I hope so. Never write like this. Student who write like the above insult themselves and every teacher they have ever been blessed to be coached by.

The enumerated list is not a discussion; the list is not even descriptive. And, while the instructions asked for five reasons, I count only four. “War” and “conflict” are the same thing. Since the student did nothing to explain the difference then there is no difference. At least with (1) and (3) a slight difference is implied. If I were in a bad mood, I might count only three reasons.

The reality is, bad mood or not, the above list earns a zero (0) in my grade book. Student didn’t follow directions and didn’t give me enough to assess their knowledge which they presumed to have gained from homework. Give me nothing, and students get nothing in return.

Any response which is anything other than a paragraph of prose, the response should earn a zero.

The Real World (RW) has real rules. The Business World has real expectations of their employees. Schools, teachers, faculty who do allow their students to skate by thinking the above response is acceptable is derelict, and their students are useless to colleges, universities, or business. While you might be “nice” or “easy,” faculty who allow the above help no one, especially not their students.

Students who find the above acceptable need to check themselves. Thinking you are getting by easy is a fools’ notion. You’ve only cheated yourself, and contributed to the destruction of our society. Congratulations.

Next:”Explain Yourself”

One thought on “College Writing Tips: Never List

  1. Pingback: College Writing (aka: Analyze, Analyze Analyze) | Tutoring the Whole Writer

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