CCK08: How to write assigned posts

(Translation in Italian)

Dear students,

here you have the rules to write the assigned posts. Assignments will arrive later on.

Rules are useful to work and cooperate in the complexity of our world. However, the validity of rules depend on context and, since context may always change, it is good to be observant but it is even better to be also vigilant about context, at the same time. Sticking to a system of rules in presence of a significant change of context may be stupid, dangerous and even criminal in certain circumstances.

In this post I give the rules to write the assignments in the INF08 course even if I usually do not like to give rules. The first reason is because with a very large number of students we have to be careful to keep actions feasible. The second one is because with a cautious use of some rules, assignments may be made more thought-provoking.

First, a praise for clarity: keep it simple whenever possible. Let’s quote the six writing rules proposed by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Some may argue that since 1946, when Orwell wrote this essay, the context may be changed, however I believe these rules are still valuable.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Second, a strict rule: limit the length of posts to 200 words. I give three reasons for this rule.

  1. In the last years I learned that, without limits on text length, many students write very long pieces and rather often these turn out to be messy. With such large classes, to read everything it may become a nightmare for the teacher and this is not useful.
  2. It is important to learn to communicate in a concise way. We all suffer from information overload nowadays. Your words have to find their way among a huge number of words in others mind. Very often your reader, or listener, has little time and little patience. It is crucial to be clear and concise when writing a nursing record, a medical record or a scientific project, for instance .
  3. With such a short limit, it is more difficult to make use of trivial cut-and-paste from whatever source. Thus, you are forced to give structure and this is good because it means to be forced to think.

Give structure in 200 words? Well, just try.

To play a bit, consider the structure of the orazione latina:

  • Exordium: here you have the chance to catch your reader, for instance with a kind of slogan
  • Narratio: expose the context
  • Argumentatio: take position, make your point
  • Peroratio: give your conclusion

Continuing to play … you write thousands of SMS, isn’t it? Well, one SMS is 160 characters and therefore 200 words are about 8 SMS. So you may have

  • Exordium: 1-2 SMS
  • Narratio: 2-3 SMS
  • Argumentatio: 2-3 SMS
  • Peroratio: 1-2 SMS

adjusted to get a total of 8 SMS …

Third, what about breaking the 200 word rule? Yes, you can break it but only if

  1. you have already written your 200 words piece
  2. and you are frustrated because you feel that relevant part of your message is missing and there is no way to squeeze in 200 words.

In this case you should do the following:

  1. Publish the 200 words post in your blog and put there also a link to a page to be created in the wiki
  2. Write your longer piece in that page.

However, do not forget to give structure to your article. There is an interesting post written by Stephen Downes about that: How to Write Articles and Essays Quickly and Expertly. It could be worthwhile to read it.

If you like to comment on all this and you write something following these same rules, your contribution will be included among the assignments.

5 pensieri riguardo “CCK08: How to write assigned posts”

  1. Andreas

    What a great post. It reminded me of Howard Becker’s advice to students. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in English.

    I have found the exhortation “Never use the passive where you can use the active” to be very powerful.


  2. L’uso degli sms come unità di misura è formidabile!

    “…. * Exordium: 1-2 SMS
    * Narratio: 2-3 SMS
    * Argumentatio: 2-3 SMS
    * Peroratio: 1-2 SMS …. ”

    Ah! Se la mia professoressa di latino potesse leggere…



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