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Gary Bortolotti, Biology Faculty

Pet Peeves

As someone who marks essays, do you have any pet peeves?

I think one thing that most people do is use too many words... They'll have, you know, long, long, long sentences and long paragraphs when just a few very simple words [would do], and I think in sciences, if there is a difference between writing in the sciences and the humanities, for example, and I actually have some experience in both, it's that we tend to use fewer and simpler words. We're trying to communicate a point. The real pet peeve I have is that people don't have any structure to their papers... ...either their scientific papers or essays. Basically, I think of it as: you're trying to tell a story, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there's a flow to it. And I always recommend that students start from the general and work toward the specific, as a general structure for their essay, and even a structure within a paragraph. And that a paragraph is an idea and should contain, sort of, one theme. And what I find is, some people can write a sentence, but they can't write a paragraph or an essay. So their sentence may be technically correct, but it goes from one idea to another idea to another idea and there's no flow at all. What really separates, I think, a good writer from a poor one is the ability to take the reader by the hand and lead them down a path to where you want them to go and to make them understand a certain concept, or whatever, and a lot of people don't get that. They don't understand the importance of setting up the idea, of giving the information in a logical sequence, so that one thing follows another, and then tying it together and interpreting it. I find that, sort of, really, really problematic when I'm reading something. When I'm just...there are just ideas all over the place. And as a consequence, you don't really understand what's going on.