Monday, December 13, 2010

A weird student locution

We know students have odd tics in their writing. But in grading essays this quarter, I've come across this locution (or variations of it) a lot:
"According to S, S states/says/claims/argues ...."
Seriously weird, as if philosophers wrote not in the first-personal, but in the meta-first-personal: not 'I will argue that P' but 'I claim that I will argue that P'.

Anyone else notice this locution — does it tell us something about student writing, reading, etc. that we should take notice of?


  1. I've gotten that one. I think for a lot of students, the pragmatics of attribution are hard to follow. When you start having to manage primary and secondary sources, and say "X says that Y believes Z," it gets confusing for them, so they just start spitting out phrases that sound right.

  2. Could the 2nd bit be a parenthetical?:

    "According to Bob, i.e., Bob says/states/claims/argues, ....

  3. Suppose S says, "I typically argue for p on the basis of q". The student rightly say "According to S, S typically argues for p on the basis of q".

    Suppose S says, "I never said that A is the best argument for C". The student might rightly say "according to S, S never said A is the best argument for C".

    These seem perfectly fine to me.

  4. Odd. I use two methods in my writing intensive courses that might help: 1) a list of helpful verbs (argues, claims, holds, states, etc.). I pair this with a discussion of how these can be used rhetorically; 2) a form with blanks representing three or so ways of incorporating quotations and/or claims about what a thinker thinks. I suspect this recent tic (which I haven't got) is a function of feeling awkward about how to represent the views of someone other than oneself. This is not something students have a lot of experience with, and so it is not surprising that they would stumble.

  5. I don't recall having this one, but the other day I had a student who used phrases such as 'Hobbes' ideas hold...' and 'Mill's harm principle believes...'

  6. I think the students might just be trying to take up more space in the answers that they give in order to fulfill minimum length requirements, particularly if they are answering a question in the context of writing an essay outside of class, or to fulfill what they believe your expectations are of minimum length requirements, if they are answering a question in the context of writing a short answer or essay in class. I wouldn't read too much into it, except a naive lack of awareness on the part of the student of being excessively wordy

  7. My guess is that they wrote it one way and decided to write it the other way but forgot to remove the original in the process, and you got stuck reading both. That phenomenon is very common.


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