This is a post about soul-destroying feedback.
Classics of the genre have been floating round my friends for years; the oh-so-appalling comment which had you marvelling at the skill of the cruelty even as tears of pain rushed down your cheeks. A few months ago I canvassed opinion on facebook, intending to post the Greatest Hits here on Clamorous Voice, but then I got approximately four thousand jobs and had to write nine hundred chapters and moved house and went to Grimsby. The first draft of this post was written in a B&B (although which I’m now not sure).
The following are all real comments made by teachers, tutors and supervisors on essays, problem sheets and practical work. I should say that neither of my lovely supervisors (or anyone at my undergrad college) have ever said anything even remotely resembling the horrors after the jump or, well, I wouldn’t be posting this, I’d be gnawing my own hand somewhere, still.
Contributing universities (and drama schools) came from the Europe, the US and Australia! Original contributors are welcome to out themselves in the comments.
Friends and fellow survivors, thank you so much for sharing. Now raise your right hand and promise not to hand this on to your future students….
- The Worst/Most Mythically Terrible/Nearest-To-Heart-Stopping Feedback You Ever Got On Your Essay, Chapter, Acting or Life From An Education Professional (click below for the horror. Slow scrolling is advised).
- “We should talk.”
- “Not this.”
- “Never this.”
- “Your writing is journalistic.”
- “You write like an American.”
- “I notice you type all your essays, ensure your handwriting remains legible so the examiner can see how truly ignorant you are.”
- “Too well-heeled.”
- “leave it out – we don’t want to be trite.”
- “Moreover, you need to cut the word ‘moreover’ from your vocabulary.”
- “If you wanted to do creative writing you should’ve studied English.”
- “I like the first sentence, it made sense.”
- “This depressed me.”
- “There is only one problem with this translation. It’s all shit.”
- “It’s as if you are attempting to get from A to X and starting at N.”
- “X, I’m fed up with your crappy fake acting. it’s rubbish, it’s an insult, and I never want to see it again.”
- “You are not writing for The Guardian.”
- “You are not writing for The Guardian… yet.”
- On a Masters dissertation, two days before deadline: “Bullshit”.
- “Makes no sense.”
- “Not like this.”
- “You do not appear to have understood the reading material”.
- “My supervisor is a master of the tactically deployed question mark. It’s less “I don’t understand your argument” and more “why did you even think writing this was a good idea, let alone showing me”.”
- “Is English your first language?” It was.
- “This would be worthy of a Cambridge student.” [at Oxford]
- “Your writing reminds me of Spenser’s Muiopotmus in that it goes in concentric circles.”
- “I got little skull and crossbones doodles. It was like hangman… the worse the essay, the more limbs skelly acquired.”
- “Why do you do your research?” [the particular horror of this one comes from reading it aloud six times; placing the emphasis on a different word in each reading; considering the implications of each emphasis, and then wondering which appalling set of insinuations your supervisor intended. Why DO you do your research?]
- “Your argument is lost in a thicket of the baroque.”
- “Just because you think this is true does not mean it is.”
- “ABSOLUTELY NOT”
- “bla bla bla”
- “What are you doing?”
- “This essay has almost no content and your writing style obscures rather than elucidates what little you have.”
- “Your entire essay is barking up the wrong tree, and then complaining when there’s no cat in it.”
- “This paper is exceedingly well-researched and well-written, marshalling an impressive number of both primary and secondary sources, but in your dissertation you’re going to have to make a real argument.”
- “Oh GOD.”
- “It wasn’t an essay as much as it was an idea, which petered out.”
- “X writes good essays, but when he has to talk about them, it seems like a fluke.”
- “X, are you GOOD at English?”
- “Sometimes you have an idea. You seem as taken by surprise by it when writing as I have when reading.”
- “For a pretty girl, you are awfully obsessed with ugly things. You must have real darkness inside you.”
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.