Lines of red and green

By Abby Ponder

Have you ever left an appointment at the Writing Center feeling a little blue? You came in mostly confident in your paper–there might’ve been a few mistakes, sure, but you just know it’s solid–and then watched as lines began to fill the margins while your eyes widened in surprise.

It’s not always a great feeling, especially that first time you see it.

Even if you talk it over with your tutor as you go, discuss why those colorful and intricate markings now dot your paper, you might still be feeling a little upset. I thought it was good–that I was good. What happened? 

Well, I have news for you: you’re not alone.

My editing process, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post here, involves a lot of printing and, well, editing. I’ll often print out a copy of my paper, take a pen to it, make the corrections, and then repeat the process a time or two again. Hey, never let it be said that I am nothing if not persistent. (And, let’s be honest, a bit of an extreme perfectionist.)

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush home and start editing your papers five or six times with a bright red pen. That’s actually not it at all! What works well for some people might not work as well for others. For instance, I know some people who simply read the document to themselves backwards, looking for typos or misplaced words as they go. Others turn on track changes in Microsoft Word and start flying through the paper.

There is no single right way to edit, just as there is also no wrong way.

The good news is that in the Writing Center, we do our best to avoid that ominous red pen. I mean, there’s a reason that all the “scary teachers” on television or in movies use it. Red packs a powerful punch and one glance at it can sometimes send the message of, “Well, darn, that doesn’t look good!” Markings on paper with red ink have developed into something with a negative connotation but, if we’re being honest, I actually prefer the red pen when I’m editing my own papers. Nothing snaps you into gear quite like the bright and shiny red ink that’s telling you, “Hey, kid, I need to be changed–don’t you dare ignore me!”

Like I said, though, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Red pens might not be for you yet, but green pens, on the other hand, are a nice place to start. After all, green is a comforting color–a cool color, in fact.

However, the ultimate thing to keep in mind is that marks on a paper are not a bad thing. They also do not lower your meaning as a writer or as a person. On the contrary, they signify that, sure, something might need improved, but you’re on the right track–you’re almost there. They’re a sign of progress and of growth, and there is something inherently valuable in that.

The markings also aren’t something that you should ever take personally. As evidenced by the picture below, I go to town with my own papers. Sometimes there is more red ink than black ink and white space and, again, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a way of thinking out loud in a quiet room and is something you should never be ashamed of.

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So, put that pen to paper and write. Or turn on track changes. Or read backwards. Or, better yet, come see us in the Writing Center.

I can’t promise anything, but I like to think that you’ll be glad you did.

Receiving feedback from professors on assignments

By Abby Ponder

Writing is a very personal process for everyone. Whether you enjoy writing or not, it is an inevitability that you’ll form attachments to the words you’ve written on paper. You placed them there for a reason, after all, and the more you read over them, the harder it can be to part from them.

So, you turn in an assignment to a professor and are awaiting your grade. You might be proud of the assignment, you might not be, but the words are in your professor’s hands and you’re ready for that grade.

Then you get it back…

…and it’s not what you expected.

Your grade may be good or it may be bad, but sometimes you’re simply not happy with the grade–or the comments on it.

So, what do you do now?

Sometimes it hurts to read the comments, but always do it: see what your professors have to say. It might not be what you want to hear, but the advice your professors have for you is often invaluable. Take their lessons into account and apply them to your paper next time–even if it’s hard.

The same can hold true for your appointments with the Writing Center. We’ll work with you on your paper, guiding you through the process, and in most cases there will be some comments in the margins.

No one is going to force you to make the changes your professor or your tutor suggests. Ultimately, use your own discretion when you’re writing (or revising) your papers. It is your paper, after all! However, keep in mind the advice of others as you go–they might just be on to something.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on March 17, 2015.