Another long day

Another really long day.

I didn’t even hit my peak 25 paper level. I think I made it through 17 before my brain was fried. These weren’t as good as the last bunch on the average, but I discovered a peculiar phenomenon.

It takes much longer to make good comments on good writing. When I finished going through a really excellent piece, I looked at the paper to see that I had made more suggestions than I ever had on the malformed stuff. It was mostly a petty tightening, removing some surplus words and suggesting more powerful synonyms. But it made the page look like I hated it when I didn’t. I loved it. I suspect the writer will take it in the spirit that it’s intended— suggestions to take something good and make it better. I always hated getting papers back without a mark (it did happen to me a lot as an undergraduate). I knew I wasn’t that good.

The hardest ones to try to figure out how to make suggestions for were ones that I just couldn’t hardly make a mark on at all. I had a paper written almost exclusively in passive voice, for example. There was no way that I could suggest on every sentence that it really needed an agent for the action, otherwise it would just lay there on the page. What can you say when the whole thing just needs to be blown-up and redone?

I had an art teacher do that to me once. He’d just look at what I was doing and say “wrong” and walk on. He’d never offer any suggestion as to how to fix it. I couldn’t do that to someone, but it looks like I didn’t pay that much attention when all I could do was make general suggestions about technique and voice.

But we’re going into the easy part now: research papers. These things are so stock and formulaic that all a person has to do is fill the blanks into the form. They seem more like house painting, compared to trying to create a masterpiece. I read innovative ones from time to time, especially in narrative theory where they try to make the form of the paper the same as the idea they are trying to convey, but the standard college research paper is a fairly dull beast by comparison.

Research itself is the artistic side of it, for me at least. It becomes a real challenge to locate things; collating the finished product is just craft. I could say the same thing of all the bureaucratic crap I’m so far behind on.

I finally surveyed the 8am class blogs, and they are mostly doing well. Some people have really taken to the concept. I’d say I have about 75% participation, which is actually better than I expected. People are using them for venting spaces, and that’s a good thing. It will be interesting to see how their research unfolds in this new environment.

What makes me nervous though, is their abilities as readers. How can you possibly write a research paper without correctly summarizing an article? I’ve decided to use this week’s Onion as material. I’m going to have them write abstracts of the stories. Hopefully, this time they will get past summarizing the first paragraph, but we’ll see.

Reading so much stuff on the Sophists has put me behind in my other class readings, and I’ll have to grade about seven more essays in the morning, but for now I’m spent. It was all the tabulating and spreadsheeting after I quit reading papers. Drags a person right down.