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Fun with writing tools: The CSC 151 description

In a recent essay, I discussed the development of a draft description for CSC 151. In part of my quest to explore my writing process, I wrote and critiqued a series of draft descriptions.

I started with this description.

In these sections of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in problems grounded in data science. In particular, we will consider mechanisms and processes for gathering, reorganizing, filtering, combining, analyzing, and visualizing data. Along the way, we will consider numeric, textual, and geographic data. The course will be taught using a workshop style: In most class sessions, students will work collaboratively on a series of problems. Includes formal laboratory work.

I ended with this description.

In these sections of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in approaches related to the practice of data science. In particular, we will explore and develop algorithms and programs that gather, reorganize, filter, combine, analyze, and visualize both structured and unstructured data. The course employs a workshop format: In most class sessions, students will collaboratively explore a variety of problems and collections of data. Includes formal laboratory work.

I then tried to see if Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor would provide additional useful advice. They didn’t. But I’m interested in the effects [1] and benefits of these tools, so let’s see what they say about the original draft.

We’ll start with Grammarly. Grammarly finds one critical issue and three advanced issues. What’s the critical issue? It wants me to hyphenate problem solving. It’s wrong [3]. What are the advanced issues? It doesn’t like functional problem solving. It says

It seems that the noun problem might combine better with an adjective other than functional. Consider rewriting this word pair or choosing a synonym for functional.

It then suggests practical. I like that suggestion. Grammarly thinks functional problem solving is practical. I should tell my students that [4].

The other two advanced issues are that I repeat myself. In particular, Grammarly notes that I repeat grounded [5] and consider and that such word repetition can make essays less interesting. I agree. But my own editing naturally caught that issue, although perhaps not as consciously. It will be useful to have Grammarly note that issue for me in the future. It suggests that I convert one of the groundeds to rooted and one of the consider to examine.

Surprisingly, Grammarly is no longer upset at Includes formal laboratory work. I have no idea why.

Let us now turn to the Hemingway Editor. It tells me that I’ve used one adverb, which meets the goal of one or fewer in a writing of this length. I have also used the passive voice only once, which again meets their goal for this length. None of my phrases have simpler alternatives. The first and the penultimate sentence are hard to read. The second sentence [6] is very hard to read. It appears that this is writing that requires an 11th grade reader.

That’s all interesting, but it doesn’t really tell me what to fix. Fortunately, I had already figured out many of the sentences that were hard or very hard to read to read.

However, given the wonderful (in)consistency of computers, it is not happy with the final version of the paragraph any more [7]. This time, it thinks the first sentence is hard to read and the next two sentences are very hard to read. These complaints make some sense; those are fairly long sentences with relatively complex structures. What grade level does it require? 14th! That’s amazingly wonderful; some of my students won’t be able to understand it [8]. You know what’s even more wonderful? The Hemingway Editor says that my writing is Poor.

Maybe I shouldn’t be as pleased with my writing as I thought. I don’t care. I like the final version, even if the Hemingway Editor doesn’t.

I was going to go meta and apply both tools to this essay. I’ll leave that exercise for another day.

[1] No, not affects [2].

[2] When I consider the effects/affects pair, I sometimes think back to the Sound Affects album by the Jam.

[3] See the prior essay for my criticism of that suggestion.

[4] Some context: Students usually say Why are we learning Scheme? It’s not practical!

[5] Well ground and grounded.

[6] Beginning with In particular

[7] It took a few minutes, but I figured it out. When the Hemingway Editor liked the paragraph, the paragraph had line breaks because I had copied and pasted from my text editor. When the Hemingway Editor didn’t like the paragraph, the paragraph lacked those line breaks. Wow! That’s annoying.

[8] That’s okay; I expect that few of my students will even try to read it. It’s rare that students read the special topic descriptions, particularly now that we no longer have broadly distributed course schedules.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-21