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This morning was the second of three mornings spent reading portfolios. I have to say, this could grow on me. We sat there at round tables reading paper after paper after paper. Every once in a while someone would giggle at a particularly humorous turn of phrase (some of these were even intended to be humorous). Every once in a while someone would ask those sitting nearby to help decide what grade would be appropriate, or what comments would be most helpful.

Two moments stand out for me. I read one portfolio by a student who was a very good writer… but he knew it a little too well. I couldn’t figure out how to write a comment that basically said “You’re a great writer, but try to humor your readers and pretend you’re not a god.” My favorite word of the entire day, though, came when I was reading the most incomprehensible piece of writing I’ve ever read. I was literally just looking to see if the sentences were complete because I couldn’t understand a thing that was going on. And then, in the midst of this, the writer started yet another incomprehensible sentence with the least perfect word possible: the word “obviously.” I burst out laughing, and (when I’d shown it to the other readers at my table) pretty soon my half of the room was laughing. Nothing was less obvious than the points the writer was using to support the argument, except perhaps for the conclusions the writer was drawing based on those points. (I’m still giggling as I write this…)

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  1. CW CW

    Did you write that comment? “You’re a great writer, but try to humor your readers and pretend you’re not a god.” Would have been a good reminder to the student that mere mortals were the readers of his/her paper ;)

  2. Iris Iris

    I wish I had the guts… but no. I wrote something benign about paying attention to his audience and modulating his narrative voice. Not nearly as interesting, I know.

    I probably should have pointed out that writing should benefit the reader more than the writer. But it’s like most “public” activity in that you always think about what you should have written long after the comment sheet is turned in to the score keepers.

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