Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Writing is rewriting 

The Cranky Professor finds few takers on his offers to rewrite papers.
I'm finishing up marking rewrites of a paper for one of my classes; out of the 12 folks who chose to submit a rewrite only 2 significantly rewrote their papers. The rest corrected marked errors (sometimes introducing new errors!). One tires of explicitness. A rewrite involves a new writing of the paper, not responding to proofreading remarks.

That last sentence needs to go into my syllabus for teaching the senior capstone. Students in that class are required to rewrite. I'm thinking of changing the labels to the class. I've thought about the structure of this class every time I teach it -- I'm due again next academic year -- and I too get little "new writing of the paper" between the two drafts. I have found that using a template for what I want helps some, but, be it senior-itis or laziness or incomprehension, the final draft and the penultimate draft look quite similar, down to seeing the same exact page in both drafts in half the projects.

I can't remember where I learned this trick, but I tried it once: Take a paper you've written with which you feel some vague dissatisfaction. Remove every other word. Set aside for 48 hours, and then repair. That paper got a lot better. Indeed, it got published.

Another one I do with students whose papers I don't like is ask them to read their papers aloud to me. "Do you think that sounds like you?" "What do you think you just said? Here's what I heard." (I'm sure English professors do this all the time -- I can assure you few economics profs do.) I don't do this often because students feel humiliated by the experience, but sometimes there's no other way to get through to the student that what they've written is incomprehensible.

Whatever it is you do after graduation, I tell them, you will write and you will rewrite. Learn both skills, and you'll do well.