This semester I have been teaching on a first year undergraduate unit which has been pretty interesting. I taught the same unit last year, and both years I have been able to get a lot out of the teaching experience. Certainly the work involved in the unit it pretty heavy – there is a lot of marking with assignments due in virtually every week, and with 30 students, it takes up several days a week. However, I find that this is a really valuable process. I certainly hope my writing is better than first year undergraduates, but by marking their work I am able to really highlight common mistakes that make writing difficult to read. In particular, common feedback that I give to students is ‘do not repeat words too often’. I know that I am guilty of this myself on occasion, and have in the past found it difficult to know when I have said a word too many times too close together. By reading (and criticising) other people’s mistakes, I have grown more aware of when a word has been written too many times or not.
Another common error I see in assignments is students using words incorrectly as they don’t know what the word means but they think it sounds like a ‘smart’ word. I’ve never been a fan of using long words when a short one can do, and as a result I have generally steered clear of tricky words, whose meaning I am not 100% sure of. Having read other people’s works which now if I have even the slightest doubt of what a word means I make sure that I triple check, and if I still have doubts I discard the word. I know my subject, and I don’t want people to doubt my abilities because I have used a word incorrectly.
The final mistake students make which I find useful to my own development, is writing unclear sentences. This is sometimes due to choosing incorrect words, sometimes due to a lack of basic grammar/language knowledge and sometimes just one of those things. Through marking, I have got much better at identifying unclear language in my own work and have got better at correcting it.
Whilst none of these things are the key to massively improved writing, they certainly don’t hurt. All feedback is useful – even when the feedback isn’t on your own work!