Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing A Paper that Will Be Graded

I am currently grading final papers for a class and was reminded of all the small things that make being a teacher or grader just a little bit more difficult than it has to be.  Here's some advice on things you can do to make life easier for the people that determine how you do in school.  Might want to pay attention.

(Note: These suggestions do not all come from the papers I'm grading now, so don't think my current class is terrible.  They come from combined experiences as a grader, editor, teacher, and Model UN Committee Director.)

1.  When submitting papers electronically (either on a classroom website or through email), don't just label your paper "Final Paper" or "Class Name".  We're getting dozens of papers, and it's really hard for us to keep them straight if they're all called the same thing.  It's not difficult to change the name of your file when we download it, but it starts to add up when you have to change 30, 60, 100 different file names.  So try something like "Last Name_Final Paper".  I know I at least use a roster sorted by last name to make sure I have received and graded all papers.  Therefore, if your file name starts with your last name, you will make me very happy, because that's how I store them all anyways. 

As a side note, a late shout out to some members of my video game class.  It you changed the way you named your files because you noticed that I always added your last name to the label, you are awesome.  You really don't know how much easier that made my life.

2.  I know a lot of you have newer computers, so you don't even think of this, but if you're working in Word, it's really helpful if you take the extra second to make sure your file saves as a .doc rather than a .docx file.  Not all of us have the newest version of Microsoft Word, because we have older computers and are too poor to justify updating something that works perfectly well, but .docx files don't open in the older version.  This requires us to do one of two things-- email you for a new copy of your paper or do a complex work around using something like Google Docs to convert the file through a series of (again) somewhat time consuming steps.  When we just want to start working our way through grading the stack of 600 pages your class just sent us, we don't want to have to do this.

3.  Even if we haven't seen it, we can tell you what was on the rubric your professor gave you for your paper.  You know how?  Because the majority of you will go through each element that the rubric listed, in order, to make sure you don't miss anything.  We know you think you're doing the right thing here, but when your paper and everyone else's reads like a to-do list, it's hard for us to make it through a whole class's worth without wanting to die.  I want to give you a good grade.  Really, I do, as much as you might think otherwise.  You can make it easier for me to do this by including transitions between paragraphs and words like "therefore", "as a result", "on the other hand" or "in addition".  All of these help us see that you've managed to connect the ideas of the class both in your head and in your essay, and a lot of times, that more than makes up for forgetting one small thing that was on the rubric.

4. Expand on your ideas.  I should never see a paragraph that takes up only three lines.  This tells me that you don't remember what the purpose of a paragraph is (to present and explain an idea) or you just completely neglected to provide any evidence for what you think and why.  This is also really easy to fix.  Before submitting your paper, look at it in print preview format.  From this view, all paragraphs should be roughly the same size.  If one is too short, see if you can just drop it into another one or expand on it.  If one is way too long, try to split it into two ideas.  This makes your readability much higher and my life much easier.

5. Please, please, please at least pretend that you proofread your paper and have some grasp of basic grammatical rules.  Know the difference between "their", "they're" and "there" and use them properly.  Same thing with "affect" and "effect", "less" and "fewer", "you're" and "your", and "its" and "it's".  Even if you capitalize things incorrectly, do it consistently.  You should not have a word starting with a lowercase letter in one sentence, an uppercase in the next, and another lowercase in the third.  That being said, proper nouns are always capitalized.  Same thing with commas-- you can choose whether or not to use the serial comma, because both are grammatically acceptable, but make sure you use them consistently.  One list shouldn't have a comma before the conjunction if the next list does not.  Check your spelling and grammar-- those tools exist for a reason.

6. Use a normal font, font size, and standard margins, especially if you're submitting electronically in Word format.  We know these tricks.  You're not fooling anyone.  Frankly, it's a little offensive that you think we're dumb enough not to notice that you changed all your punctuations to size 16 font, and I'll admit I'm much more likely to grade you harder when you try it.


  1. "Even if you capitalize things incorrectly, do it consistently. "

  2. Hey, it's true. If you're going to mess up, at least do it properly.