WRITING WELL: A Student Guide to Marker Happiness


A couple of years ago, I was asked by one of my students to write a piece for the (fictional) publication she had to create for her final journalistic project. This series is based on what I wrote for that piece.

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Undergraduate students (and postgraduate students, for that matter) often find writing to be the most difficult part of their degree. This is especially true for students in Humanities and Social Science disciplines, where almost every aspect of the degree involves written work.

The fact that these disciplines do not assess learning through multiple choice question papers and the ability to correctly apply formulae (although there are always exceptions) means that the evaluation of student work is a subjective process, based on many (often unquantifiable) factors.

One of these factors (as much as those of us involved in assessment may not want to admit it) is the marker’s mood at the time of the marking. A positive (e.g., happy) mood means that the marker is likely to be: (a) more tolerant of poor writing, (b) more lenient when assigning a mark (there is a difference between a 66% and a 68%), and (c) more free with the positive (constructive) feedback. A negative (e.g., angry or tired) mood means exactly the opposite.

In my opinion, a marker should know better than to begin a marking task in a negative mood. S/he owes both her/himself and her/his students better than that. And, s/he must be aware that, the further down the pile of assignments one gets, the more negative the mood will tend to become (I’ve never heard a marker say that their marking improved her/his mood). However (and also in my opinion), students need to take responsibility for their role in the negative mood that arises from marking poorly constructed and badly argued assignments.

The following guide (to be published in 5 parts, beginning Thursday 28 April) is aimed at helping students to make a marker happy (based on what makes me happy), and actively working on each of these areas will ultimately be in the best interests of the student (see paragraph 3 above for mention of more lenient marking).



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