With regard to my analogy below on how the Economics department should teach some accounting in the same way, and for similar reasons, that the English department teaches students to write, Mike Needham ’04 notes:

No worries, the English Department here, with the exception of Bob Bell, does not teach people to write well. Teaching that skill appears to have gone out of style a few decades ago.

Comments:

1) Harsh!

2) Needham, as a former editor in chief of the Record, has probably read a fair amount of undergraduate-generated prose, so his criticism can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

3) I have cheap, albeit potentially traumatic, solution to this problem. Or, to the extent that you believe that Williams does a great job of teaching students to write well, a way to make that process even better. Student papers should be posted on the web along with the comments made by the professors.

There are a lot of messy details to be worked out in any such plan. Should the papers be anonymous? Should public posting be a requirement? Should grades be posted along with comments? My answers to these questions would be No, Yes and No, but reasonable people might differ.

What I think is beyond dispute is, on average, that students should take more care with their writing and that professors should provide more and better feedback to students about their writing. Practice and feedback are the keys to better writing. A side benefit to such a plan is that Student A would learn something by seeing the Student B’s work and the comments that the professor has made on it.

But this is all a larger topic for another day. If Mike Needham has unfairly maligned the English department, then I would certainly like to hear about it.

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