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Thread: Rant: Professors who can't leave well enough alone (painting legs on a snake).

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Default Rant: Professors who can't leave well enough alone (painting legs on a snake).

    Here's a rant against something I saw in my own professors in college, and many other professors I still encounter today.

    Back in my college days, after I submitted what I believed to be a flawless or near flawless rough draft for the professor to offer comments on, I sometimes received remarks such as "say some more" or "explain this" or "more comments."

    Mind you, these were not skimpy, anemic, or superficial passages that I wrote. I felt that I had taken these points to their logical limit, and that adding more would be superfluous.

    Naturally, I extended those passages anyway...because I knew that the professor wasn't going to give me that higher grade if I didn't implement his/her recommendations. So I did it dutifully, but I cursed myself all the way because I felt I was simply adding fluff to what I had already written to satisfy the professor's demand for "more." Unlike the initial material, I didn't believe in the additional material at all. It was done simply to satisfy the professor.

    Invariably, I'd get the "A" on the paper, and the professors would write glowing comments on the additional parts (which he/she suggested more than I conceived) and singling those parts out for special praise. I was happy to get the "A" and the praise, but I was still disgusted because I thought that frankly, the essay was better *before* I conceded and made those additions. To me, adding those extra parts for the professor was, as we Chinese say, "painting legs on the snake."

    I got so frustrated by this once that I turned in the paper with a sticky note that said something to effect of, "Professor ____________: in my culture, we have a saying: 'don't paint legs on a portrait of a snake.' However, since you like your snakes with legs, I've happily obliged."

    He was quite amused after he got the joke.

    This is a pet peeve of mine to this day.

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    Senior Member junny's Avatar
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    They're professors and have a different criteria for judging essays. Get over it.
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    Senior Member HuangYushi's Avatar
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    Ken: Do you catch yourself doing the same sometimes to your students?
    Jin Yong's Ode to Gallantry [侠客行].
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    Senior Member jiang bao's Avatar
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    They give the marks so you have to do what they think is right. Not a big deal, other than time wasted.
    What are you fighting for? Just mix them into pissing beef balls, stupid.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HuangYushi View Post
    Ken: Do you catch yourself doing the same sometimes to your students?
    Only if the writings are evidently shallow and incomplete, but otherwise, no. More often, I'm the instructor who asks the writers to pare away extraneous material rather than add more. In most of my revisions of student writings, I find myself asking students to *reduce* needless spacefiller content rather than add more.

    Quote Originally Posted by jiang bao View Post
    They give the marks so you have to do what they think is right. Not a big deal, other than time wasted.
    The time spent was not a big deal. What made me unhappy was that I thought that the parts I added ruined the essays...that they were extraneous to requirements, were redundant, and interrupted the flow of ideas. But for some reason, the professors liked seeing it...even though I thought they totally painted legs on the snake.

    The additional remarks never felt like organic, integral parts of the essays to me; they were merely "add-ons" put there for the professor's satisfaction, not mine (i.e. the actual writer).

    In always kept an unrevised copy because that's the way I thought it *should* have read.

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    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Only if the writings are evidently shallow and incomplete, but otherwise, no. More often, I'm the instructor who asks the writers to pare away extraneous material rather than add more. In most of my revisions of student writings, I find myself asking students to *reduce* needless spacefiller content rather than add more.
    What you consider to be 'needless spacefiller content', your students probably feel to be paring away relevant and important material that better fleshes out their argument or adds more punch to it. Different people have different opinions on the length and degree of elaboration required. When you're in charge, your opinion matters. When you aren't, your opinion doesn't.

    This is really common (even more so than in academia) in journalism; reporters write what they feel to be beautifully written essays and, in the words of a reporter friend, the editors "chop them apart and mangle them". Same thing. Your opinion doesn't really matter; your boss' opinion does. Bottom line, I guess, would be to never fall too in love with your own writing style/essays.

    Reminds me of a Chinese saying; "Your own essays, someone else's wife." With the meaning, of course, being that each is 'better' in one's own eyes.
    Last edited by Ren Wo Xing; 10-27-09 at 11:55 AM.
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    Ken, all profs possibly being focused in some specialized areas will have some deep feelings/thinking. also, they will have thought of other aspects and convinced themselves that these will not "work". the saying is "when in rome, does what the romans do".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    What you consider to be 'needless spacefiller content', your students probably feel to be paring away relevant and important material that better fleshes out their argument or adds more punch to it. Different people have different opinions on the length and degree of elaboration required. When you're in charge, your opinion matters. When you aren't, your opinion doesn't.

    ...
    I was about to say the same thing ... if the professor is your student, he would have the same disgust for removing relevant infomation.

    A matter of taste, although I would stick to simplicity.

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    Senior Member sniffles's Avatar
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    Beauty, in this case the beauty/clarity of the language, is in the eye of the beholder.

    It reminds me of a pet peeve I have about fiction writing. I have always subscribed to the advice I received from my undergrad creative writing instructor: "Show, don't tell." What she meant was, don't reveal every piece of information in a long expository paragraph. Reveal the details where they're relevant.

    But an awful lot of fiction authors like to write long descriptive paragraphs explaining everything to the reader all at once, what I like to call an 'info-dump'. I dislike them because they interrupt the flow of the narrative. But other people must like reading them, because editors apparently never tell authors to remove them.
    你看这些云彩,聚了又散,散了又聚,人生离合也是一样。

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    Moderator kidd's Avatar
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    Haha, so, because your undergrad creative writing instructor tell you "Show, don't tell.", you started to develop a dislike for long descriptive paragraphs that explains everything to the reader all at once?

    What if your instructor never told you that? Will you still have this pet peeve?

    Just a point to ponder.

    Agree with everyone. Nothing's wrong with the professors' advice. Just a matter of different taste and view point.
    什麼是朋友?朋友永遠是在你犯下不可原諒錯誤的時候,仍舊站在你那邊的笨蛋。~ 王亞瑟

    和諧唔係一百個人講同一番話,係一百個人有一百句唔同嘅說話,而又互相尊重 ~ - 葉梓恩

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    Senior Member sniffles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kidd View Post
    Haha, so, because your undergrad creative writing instructor tell you "Show, don't tell.", you started to develop a dislike for long descriptive paragraphs that explains everything to the reader all at once?

    What if your instructor never told you that? Will you still have this pet peeve?
    No, I felt that way before she said it. She merely gave me a shorthand way of explaining why I think that sort of writing isn't good writing.
    你看这些云彩,聚了又散,散了又聚,人生离合也是一样。

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    I think Ken would appreciate this:

    I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short (Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte)~Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (1656-1657), no. 16.

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    Senior Member Guo Xiang ( :'s Avatar
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    But it's the professor's job to teach the student. So wouldn't the best thing just to listen to him/her? You don't have to write like they say when you're a professional.

    As my English teacher put it, "You can write however you want.. after class."
    "I'd call you a genius... but I'm in the room."
    -Doctor Who

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