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Don’t Be Cruel

[M]angled syntax, disordered thinking, and frequent error happen to be hallmarks of a novice writer learning a new discourse. If we incorrectly assume they reflect a lack of effort or character — and base our feedback on that assumption — we do our students a disservice and risk inflicting real damage. | It takes enormous amounts of time and mental energy to craft substantive, constructive comments that will truly help students…

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Facebook Ad Refreshes Interrupt the Composition Process

So I’m trying to edit a Facebook status, and every minute or so, when the ads on the right side of my screen refresh, and the cursor disappears from the editing area, I have to take my fingers off the keyboard (I’m using Chrome for iPad, with an after-market add-on keyboard) and tap the window to restore the browser’s focus. How depressing. Facebook’s interface is fighting against my intention to…

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Venus Flytraps Are Even Creepier Than We Thought

I clicked for the topic, but it was the writing that captured me. The first impulse sets a secret timer, and what the fly does in the next 20 seconds will determine its fate. If it avoids the hairs, it will live. If it bumps a second one, it sets off another electrical impulse, which raises the trap’s calcium levels above a critical threshold. The plant responds by sending water into…

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Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer

I’ve been doing this since 1999. Why do academics blog? What do academic bloggers get from blogging? Discussions about scholarly blogging most often centre on the need for we academics to write in ways that attract new audiences. If we write blogs, we are told, we can communicate our research more effectively. Blogs enhance impact; they are a medium for public engagement. The advocacy goes on… Blogs (and other social…

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Books Wield a Dangerous Power

While we might point to violent video games or sexually explicit films as potentially dangerous and corrupting influences on tender or vulnerable minds, the novel is treated as uplifting and salutary, regardless of its content: a kale smoothie for the soul. When we do talk about books being ‘dangerous’, it is usually with a knowing nod and a wink: and the implication is that those of us in the know…

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When Asking the Question is Part of the News Story (New Example: Clinton Supporters)

I ask my journalism students to avoid using the phrase “When asked about…” as a default transition in news stories. While they are taught in freshman comp classes to introduce their quotes and then explain the significance of the quotes, to a journalist that’s just filler. This story from the Daily Mail (a UK publication which has a reputation for being gossipy and conservative) covers shows pictures of teens and…