I’m in a writing group.  We share our work and help each other out.  Recently one of our absentee members finally sent in something for us to help with; the methods chapter of her dissertation.  In a word, it’s awful. 

  • It’s chapter 3.  It starts on page 11.  How the HELL do you introduce and contextualize a dissertation-level project in 10 pages? 
  • It’s 26 pages long.  I made it through 11 before the red ink was so thick that I felt genuinely bad about it.  Things I noticed:
    • Excessively repetitive paragraphs. 
    • Using the same words over and over to the point of distraction
    • Unclear argument
    • Confusing organization
    • Strange included and/or excluded details (like the height, build and hair/eye color of only some of the people interviewed; it’s either relevant for all or not)
    • Sloppy grammar, excessive use of passive language and wordiness

I felt bad about being so harsh but when I met with the other writing group members (except this one) we all felt the same way.  Since we haven’t seen much of the person we didn’t want to be overly harsh, so one of our members asked where they were in the process.

The answer was “defending in April”. 

Why is it that some of us are pushed so much harder than others? 
Why is it that the expected quality doesn’t at least have some kind of minimum? 

I don’t want our missing member to fail;  I’d love to see this fixed and worked into an amazing article someday.  It’s an interesting question and relevant to many contemporary debates.  But if I sent something written like that to Chair he would send it back to me with “you can do better” if he were in a good mood and “you must be kidding” if he weren’t. 

I’m not trying to say I’m a great writer.  I aspire to competence and it’s a ways off.  But I find it shocking that there isn’t at least SOME basic standard that has to be demonstrated and that the standard can be so variable as to allow that type of work to be moved forward.  In the end this person will have the same degree that I have but not have had to perform at anywhere near the same level to get it.  That offends me.