Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Well, it’s that time of year again, the paper-grading season. I thought I’d share a particularly amusing/appalling incident with one of my students, as captured in this email of mine:

Dear Barry,

As I explained in the last email, the problems with your paper are not merely superficial, and not a result of your “computer problems,” or your “misunderstanding certain style-book and citation rules” and “have[sic] to adjust to a different set of expectations.” They are fundamental. The main arguments do not work. Many sentences are so plagued with errors that they are incoherent.

Just as in economics, there are rules to grammar, and you are responsible for knowing them.

In my note on the first page, which you say you cannot read due my “poor hand-writing” (tip: be more diplomatic with your professors!) I explain that your introduction promises to deliver an argument that it never does, and one which the few facts you do present openly contradict.

Sorry to have to underline the obvious, Barry, but the grade is an “F.” Due to rampant grade-inflation across our system, I only give out a handful of those each semester. In other words, your paper is really, really bad. It is a total failure.

I say this to you because you seem to remain oblivious. You say, “I’m going to have to, obviously, remarket and rebrand, and that will be challenging in this academic environment.”

Barry, this is not Marketing 101, but Composition 101, and I know your business professor would find your application of marketing terminology to this case incorrect. You cannot “rebrand” horrible writing. Nor can you revise it, even if you wanted. Whoever has taught you to talk this way has done you a great disservice.

Yes, my syllabus allows you to revise one paper, but I will not allow you to do it with this one.


Professor Scott

P.S. I do notice that “challenging in this academic environment,” is a dig at my grading fairness. I do not appreciate that sort of insulting behavior, and if it continues I will contact the honor committee.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles