Thursday, October 06, 2005

Thoughts on Grading


The average for the first set of papers was 3.318, a B+. Overall, I was pleased with the arguments made and the presentation.

Some thoughts:
Paraphrase. Long quotations disrupt the flow of a paper, and should be used only in the most extreme circumstances. When the author has used particularly compelling language, or when the language itself is at stake, long quotations are justified. Typically, only Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Cash, and possibly William Shakespeare deserve such treatment. In other cases, lean heavily toward the paraphrase.

Edit. People don't like reading memos, and look for a reason not to take you seriously. Errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation give them the excuse that they need. It is helpful to read a paper out loud to yourself in order to catch such errors.

Economize. Memos are short for a reason. They are designed to pack a large amount of information into a small amount of space, largely because policymakers don't have the time to read dissertations. Every sentence you write needs to have a purpose. Every paragraph needs to lead somewhere. The use of active voice helps economize on language. Similarly, the exclusion of unnecessary adjectives and, especially, of qualifiers shortens a paper up and increases its impact.

The presentations thus far have earned an average grade of 3.425. Thoughts:
Focus. Make sure that people know what question you're trying to answer. This will focus your presentation, and will focus the minds of the audience on your problem. This leads to better questions and a more positive audience reaction.
Economize. Nobody likes sitting around and listening to someone talk, especially during the baseball playoffs. Try to make sure that your presentation doesn't exceed the fifteen minute neighborhood.
Anticipate. The question and answer period is probably the most interesting part of the presentation for me. Have a sense of what kind of questions you expect people to ask, and have a notion of what your answers to those questions will be. When you receive unexpected, ill-informed, or out-to-lunch questions, think about how you can answer such that the main points return to your basic topic. Be prepared.
All that said, I have been pleased thus far with both the papers and the presentations. Good work, all.

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