Laurie Taylor Column

October 20, 2006

Some departments meet the QAA requirement to publish external examiners' reports online by providing their own summaries - The Times Higher, October 13 .

Right, Maureen. What's the first line of Tussock's report?

Our external starts by saying: "Although the overall standard of the finals papers was relatively satisfactory, students on the postmodernism and semiology courses failed to show any comprehensive grasp of the subject."

Far too verbose. How about: "The overall standard was very satisfactory." And forget the business about postmodernism and semiology. We don't want to get bogged down in detail.

But you've changed " relatively satisfactory " to " very satisfactory ".

Always go for the shorter word. "Very" saves six letters. Next.

"The project paper was disappointing. Students appeared to have received insufficient supervision and produced papers of extremely variable quality."

That can easily come down. How about: "There was a wide range of quality on display in the project papers." Next.

"Insufficient attention was paid by the internals to basic spelling and grammar."

Omit.

But that's not a summary. That's an omission.

All summaries involve omissions or how else could they ever be summaries? Next.

"In summary, another year in which the expectations raised by the course outlines failed to be realised in practice."

That's got to go. We can hardly have a summary of a summary. I mean, who's doing this summary? Tussock or me? Next.

"In conclusion I must thank the department for their hospitality and, of course, for the absolutely excellent dinner."

Cut that a bit. What's left now?

"The overall standard was very satisfactory. There was a wide range of quality on display in the project papers. Absolutely excellent dinner."

A model of concision. Leave out "dinner" and Bob's your uncle.

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