LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Response to Daniel Dunston’s commentary

Elizabeth Winkler

I would like to respond to Daniel Dunston’s well written and thoughtful commentary of 12/2/11.  

I cannot speak to whether or not the length requirement for his particular assignment was a fair one or not.

However, I have length requirements for my papers for a particular set of reasons. The first of which is that I know what the minimum amount of material a very skilled writer needs to provide me sufficient content, analysis and evidence. I actually tell less skilled writers that they may need to write more to be successful. I’ve been doing this a long time. 

These are not arbitrary numbers. Most students appreciate a length requirement. I have heard complaints about professors who give instructions like, “You need to write enough to be successful.” 

Although I understand these professors’ intent, many students want more concrete instructions. 

Second, I am not grading on length alone. A very long paper can still be crap. I look at good development of content, serious analysis by the student of the issue, good grammar, style, flow, and punctuation and appropriate use and citation of academic sources to support the points that they are making. I expect most other professors do the same thing. 

It may be that as professors we are not doing a good enough job of explaining to our students how we assess their papers. We should be making every effort to make our grading policies clear. One the other side, I have students I have been begging to come and see me for help since the beginning of the semester who simply will not come to the office for help. 

If you don’t know what your professors want, please ask! Most of us will be delighted to see you during our all-too-often empty office hours or make an appointment for another time that works for you. 

There’s still a week you can do that! 

Elizabeth Winkler

Associate Professor of Linguistics