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FAQ's about the UK Writing Program

Will the Writing Program help me edit my thesis or dissertation?

Although the Writing Program can't help you directly with your thesis or dissertation, we do maintain an up-to-date list of English graduate students and writing professionals who can help. Fees vary from person to person, and editors work for you as independant contractors not associated with the Writing Program. View the current editorial worklist.

My roommate's section is different from mine.

As a student, you will probably identify variations among the multiple sections of the required writing courses. And for good reason. The major policies and the demands that writing assignments make are similar from section to section. However, for your benefit and for the benefit of your instructor, the Writing Program permits and encourages its instructors to tailor some of the components of their own classes. While all sections are expected to adhere to the major policies and objectives of the course syllabus, instructors have some flexibility, including choice of textbooks and assignments.

We want our instructors to design their classes according to their unique talents and interests because we believe that students benefit by being taught by instructors who are interested and motivated, rather than by instructors who are merely following a formula. We also believe it important to teach students to think about the numerous writing tools available rather than simply teaching them to mimic a formula. We believe that both instructors and students benefit from the flexibility and creativity.

As a result, while another section is similar to yours in the kinds of essays they are writing, the other section may be addressing different topics in those essays and may have minor unit assignments added to it. Each course paper must work to meet at least one of the course objectives, which are uniform from section to section and provide the basis for our assessment and accreditation. To insure that sections are doing similar work, the Writing Program evaluates all course variations. Such differences result because instructors find different methods that work for them. We hope that you will appreciate the flexibility that the Writing Program gives your instructor.

This paper would get a B in another section, but I got only a C.

First, Bravo! "C" means that you did the assignment satisfactorily and competently. You successfully completed the assignment.

Some students who compare their papers and grades detect what they believe are variations among sections. For example, a student and her roommate are in different sections, but they are both writing proposal essays. She receives a lower grade than her roommate, and then concludes that her instructor is being unfair for grading harder. Of course, the reverse may be true (and probably is): the roommate's instructor may be grading too leniently. However, the Writing Program works to make sure that instructors agree upon a common standard of proficiency. The Writing Program also holds meetings and workshops to ensure that instructors are grading on a common standard, and at the end of each semester, we look at grade distributions--course by course.

Another reason, perhaps more likely, for grade disparity is that no two classes are alike. This is the best way to teach writing. Whenever you write, you write in a particular situation: your purposes and audiences differ, and these differences require you to make unique decisions about topic choice, development, organization, style, and tone. In your college career, you may have two different writing classes, and two instructors who have different teaching styles. However, both can be opportunities for learning, because each presents a unique context, a unique writing situation to which you should tailor your writing. For this reason, it is often inaccurate to compare two different papers from two different classes.

It is equally inaccurate to compare your current grades to those you received in high school. It is certainly disturbing to you to find that what passed for "A" or "B" work in high school, now receives a "C" or even a "D". The reason for this difference is that you are now among better writers. A "C"--an average, competent paper--is a solid grade, not a failing one. A "B" means "Above Average" work, that is, above the average of 101-102 University of Kentucky writers. Please remember: if everyone received "A's" and "B's", "A" and "B" would be meaningless grades.

My teacher just uses his/her own opinion to grade.

Many times, students prefer objective tests. However, to synthesize and apply concepts and skills, a student must be allowed to create something unique. Thus, in many courses--from computer science to music to business administration--a student has projects that are graded subjectively. Some people believe that subjective grading is an unreliable form of assessment. However, every day, people in numerous professions--judges and politicians, business entrepreneurs and advertising executives, physicians and engineers--make subjective decisions.

There are two types of subjective opinions: those that are based upon personal preferences and those that are based upon intellectual judgments. Contrary to what some people believe, subjective assessment is not based on a grader's personal taste or whim. Rather, it is a professional judgment--a judgment that is based upon applying particular evidence to one's knowledge of the field. An instructor who points out a weakness in a paper and makes suggestions is performing the same function as a physician who gives a medical opinion about various types of treatment. In both cases, empirical evidence is used to make subjective judgements, but those judgments are professional, not personal.

While a friend may tell you that he/she likes your paper, it is important to realize that he/she is expressing a personal, rather than professional, opinion. An instructor's assessment, on the other hand, is a judgment derived from the instructor's knowledge of writing, and it is based upon the empirical evidence in the paper. For example, a paper that is disorganized has a problem, regardless of whether the instructor agrees with the paper's argument. Even if the instructor agrees with the student's opinion, and even if he/she personally likes the paper's topic and information, he/she will have to take points off for the disorganization. On the other hand, a paper that is well-constructed will receive credit for its organization, even if the instructor personally disagrees with the argument or dislikes the topic. In both cases, the paper's strengths and weaknesses are observable in the paper itself, and exist independent of the instructor's personal preferences.

Your professors and instructors in college are certainly opinionated people--they have studied, debated, and developed opinions about issues, and they voice their opinions deliberately. However, this does not necessarily mean that they expect you to agree with them. One fact that some students may not be aware of is that most instructors actually like seeing students disagree because such students are showing a willingness to think independently. In fact, according to Student Rights and Responsibilities (Section 6.1.2), the University recognizes your right to your own opinion: "A student has the right to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in the classroom without being penalized." As the wording of this section indicates, whether you agree or disagree, your opinions are expected to be "reasoned." It is your instructor's responsibility to hold you accountable for your opinions. Your instructor's objective is to teach you to support, develop, and articulate your opinions in a logical, organized, and clear manner, in an essay that anticipates and refutes counter arguments.

Therefore, be careful of misrepresenting an instructor's comments in the margins of your paper. Your instructor does not comment or take points off because he/she disagrees; rather the instructor is pointing out that you did not anticipate, and effectively refute, counter arguments. You might be surprised to discover that instructors who challenge you with counter arguments might actually agree with you personally. It's part of their job to play "devil's advocate." And often you might be equally surprised to discover that an instructor who personally disagrees with your essay rewards it with a high grade when it is effectively argued. Whether grading a paper that agrees or one that takes a differing point of view, the instructor does the same thing: he/she checks for whether the paper supports the argument with developed reasons and credible evidence, in an organized and clear manner.

My instructor didn't mention something on my draft, and then he/she penalized me for it in my final paper.

Consultants, that is your peers, Writing Center personnel, or your instructor might write comments to facilitate your writing process. However, a consultant cannot (and should not) write comments all over the paper for every single trouble-spot. Nor can (or should) a consultant anticipate every single factor in a paper that may cause you difficulty.

An essay is not like a flat tire with holes in it. To "fix" your writing you must do more than simply fill holes. Most of the comments that a consultant will make on your drafts, or in conferences with you, are "global" in nature rather than "local." This means that it comment in the margin refers not just to that one local spot in the paper, but it affects the paper as a whole. As a result, you cannot revise an essay simply by "fixing" the spots where the consultant's comments appear. If you do, you may find that the quality and grade of the essay will be low, even though you tried to "repair" everywhere the consultant wrote a comment.

This means, for example, that you cannot necessarily organize a paper by just switching two paragraphs around, or by adding a transitional word between two sentences. Instead, you must consider how switching the two paragraphs affects the overall structure of the argument; you must consider whether one transitional word between two sentences will really join them if they have no relation at all to each other.

An instructor reads your paper with a specific aim in mind: he or she will probably identify two or three major areas or problems that you should work on to make your paper at least competent. For a paper that already displays competence, an instructor will write comments to help you improve the paper even more. In other words, the instructor's comments on a draft do not necessarily represent every revision that needs to be done to guarantee an "A."

It is up to you to make the most of your consultants' comments on a draft by revising it thoroughly and carefully. Ultimately, you are responsible for the final version of your own papers.

I worked hard on this paper and it only got a C.

Sometimes a student feels that he/she did not receive a fair grade on a paper because much time and effort went into it. While it is important to put forth effort, as anyone in business knows, the investment does not always pay off. Fortunately, however, success tends to outweigh failure; effort often pays off. A "C" means that you have met the terms of the assignment competently.

Your instructor is always glad to see you working hard and seriously. However, your instructor's job is to grade not the intent, but the final product. Just as an engineer must evaluate the sturdiness of a bridge regardless of the effort that went into it, an instructor must assess the quality of an essay on its own merits. Doing anything else would mean misleading you about your real progress as a writer. Similarly, rewarding someone else for high effort but unsatisfactory performance would devalue your own fine work.

An important final note about grades.

Whatever your concerns about grading may be, please remember this important point. An instructor who maintains standards is one who is working hard. If you are graded leniently, your instructor is doing you a disservice because he/she is neither giving you an accurate assessment of your work nor encouraging you to improve. By holding you to high expectations, your instructor is showing that he/she is not willing to let you get by with unsatisfactory work. Your instructor is demonstrating that he/she cares about providing the education that you have come to the university to receive.