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KatawaGrey's avatar

Is there a polite way to let a professor know that I have a huge amount of trouble reading her handwriting?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21461points) October 13th, 2010

My English professor has almost illegible handwriting. This would not be a problem except that she writes on our papers and assignments and I have a very hard time actually deciphering what she has to say. Sometimes, I ask her to clarify what she’s written but often, I do not have time to do that. Is there a polite way to ask her to write more neatly?

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42 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I think putting diplomacy above clarity in your request might backfire. How about a simple and direct statement? “I’m having difficulty reading your comments, and I don’t want to miss anything.” If her writing is really poor (or her hand stiff and tired after marking two dozen papers), you won’t be the first to mention it.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Make sure to get a chance to read it in class. Then make many many mistakes…and say oooh I couldn’t make that out…etc.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Jeruba: This professor is particularly prickly she once chewed me out for checking a book out of the library rather than buying it so I don’t want to eschew diplomacy completely. I think your suggested comment is actually quite polite and direct, however.

@Ltryptophan: I don’t quite understand what you’re saying. Do you mean for me to try and read what she wrote and then deliberately make mistakes?

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Jeruba's avatar

@KatawaGrey, I understand your disinclination to hear a crabby response, but truly, her prickliness and your problem have nothing to do with one another. If you want to convey to her that you value her comments and want to be able to read them all, but you can’t, a prickly response might be the cost of doing that.

(Do note that I am suggesting that you only tell her what your problem is and not that you advise her on what to do about it.)

zen_'s avatar

Can someone, at that age, change their handwriting? Why piss off a prof?

risingonashes's avatar

I had this issue once, I started emailing that professor and let them know I could not always read their handwriting. They completely understood and continued to email me the notes they had on my papers.

Hopefully your professor is as understanding, sometimes typing and email is better for them as well.

Jeruba's avatar

At a good guess, @zen_, I would say I’m probably older than the prof. I can’t change my handwriting at this stage, but when I am tired, or leaning back in a comfortable chair and writing uphill (as I often do), or just in a hurry, my markup of a client’s ms. can get pretty ragged. With a small effort, I can write much more neatly. The prof might just need a reminder that she’s wasting the work of writing comments if the student can’t decipher them.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Jeruba: I think you’re right about not advising her on what to do about it. I wouldn’t worry about her prickly nature except that I’m worried that if I ask her, she’ll just give me a prickly response and then not answer my question and I’ll be even further from her good graces than I already am. I think I will just risk it anyway and let you all know how it goes. :)

I got a batch of crazy and/or substandard professors this year.

zen_'s avatar

@Jeruba I teach. Seriously, now: would you want a student mentioning it to you – and how would you react. Truthfully.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@zen_: Would you rather that student be unable to decipher your comments and thus not take them into account?

I didn’t meant to infer that she should change her handwriting. I was thinking along the lines of what @Jeruba said. I thought maybe she had written the comments so fast that her writing became illegible.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@KatawaGrey I would email her asking for a typed or emailed copy. If she doesn’t comply, or is mean, I would then take it to her superior.
She got mad at you for checking a book out instead of buying it? Why? I get chewed out all the time for buying instead of checking out at the library, but I’ve never heard of it the other way around. That is truly bizarre.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@papayalily: Her reasoning was that she wanted us to be able to write on the book and be on the same page as everyone else. It is a relevant concern but she did take it to the point of being mean. She actually yelled at those of us with different editions when the other students directed us to the correct portions of the book we were discussing.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@KatawaGrey Since most students buy their books, but then try to resell them, and writing on books significantly decreases how much the bookstore gives you for them, it sounds like she’s pissed off that students aren’t just rolling in dough. Also, checking a different edition out from the library is what other people call “critical thinking”, so she sounds like a really bad professor.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@papayalily: She’s just very controlling. I like the subject matter, I like our in-class discussions, but when it comes to the actual work, it’s not that great. I look forward to the end of the semester.

zen_'s avatar

You wrote: Her reasoning was that she wanted us to be able to write on the book and be on the same page as everyone else. It is a relevant concern but she did take it to the point of being mean. She actually yelled at those of us with different editions when the other students directed us to the correct portions of the book we were discussing.

Have fun correcting her.

ZEN OUT

Ltryptophan's avatar

@KatawaGrey yup…if you can’t read it just do as best you can…maybe she will get the picture…or think you need glasses…

Jeruba's avatar

Truthfully, @zen_? Would I want a student mentioning it to me? Absolutely! Suppose the student says, “Excuse me, Ms. Jeruba, but I’m having difficulty reading your comments, and I don’t want to miss anything.” I can’t imagine myself saying anything other than “Oh, I’m sorry—I’ll try to be clearer. After all, what’s the point of my writing comments if you can’t read them? Show me what you’re having trouble with, and I’ll be glad to clarify it.”

zen_'s avatar

* sigh*

Now, @KatawaGrey – you have your answer: ^ is what you should say – and, more importantly, how to say it.

ZEN REALLY OUT

Ltryptophan's avatar

Hey there is a chance this goes awry. You say “I can’t quite make x out that you wrote.” Now. How clear does this teacher of yours speak? If their language is very clear, and you can follow the lecture the notes should kinda follow along the same lines. No matter if you only got a couple letters right out of each word there is a good chance that if you are paying close attention that even the first letter being right with just a swiggle behind it should do the trick. So the teacher (who might be used to people paying close attention and packing as much information as possible into a lecture period) might stop as they are feverishly writing what you believe to be gibberish, and lose their train of thought. The person next to you who is a handwriting savant, and is all over what the professor is saying like white on rice could scowl at you for stopping the extemporaneous flowing groove the professor is in. BAM all of a sudden you are an oddball and a knowledge turnicate.

careful…

Jeruba's avatar

What’s a turnicate? Do you mean tourniquet?

Ltryptophan's avatar

@Jeruba yah…so… :-P

lillycoyote's avatar

On the other hand… sometimes the prickliest profs are the ones who most appreciate straight talk. Can you talk to other students in her class or students who have had her in the past and ask how they handled this? If her handwriting is generally illegible you’re certainly not the first student who has had to deal with this.

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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t get why people like that become professors if they get prickly over an issue such as this one. When you tell her, make it sound like it’s you that’s the problem, not her (I know, I know…but in the long run, it won’t matter and you gotta play the game) and say something like “I can never read my professors’ handwriting, I think the brains of my generation are totally suited for typed remarks…any chance I can get my remarks in an email?” and then at the end of class, put in the evaluation that you think she’s an idiot. It’s true.

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augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Ahem. Let’s get back on topic, shall we? Thanks, darlings.

Austinlad's avatar

@KatawaGrey, I doubt you will get any better advice than Jeruba’s. She obviously knows what she’s talking about. I’ve taught, too, as well as managed people, and “prickly” as I may have gotten on occasion, I can’t fathom the idea of being angry at a student or employee who asked for help, especially in the kind and mature way she suggests. In fact, I would be very appreciative.

juniper's avatar

I agree with Jeruba: there isn’t much room for diplomacy, here. Just politely mention it to your teacher and explain that you value her feedback and want to comprehend it fully. You might bring a recent paper with you and gently ask about a few comments that are hard to read.

Really. She spends time on those comments. She probably doesn’t want them to go to waste, either.

I teach writing, too, and I sometimes get a bit lazy with my handwriting. Mostly I do this when I’m quite absorbed with the subject matter and the opportunity to converse (through written commentary) with a student on an interesting point. I get excited, and my handwriting falters. Not good! I’ve started to type and email my comments as a way around this.

perg's avatar

@Jeruba I’m with you on wanting to be told. My mom told me years ago that she had a hard time reading my handwriting so I typed my letters to her – not a problem (now it’s all e-mail, so my handwriting’s gotten even worse). Hell, even I can’t read my handwriting sometimes.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

And one more vote for Jeruba’s response. My sister taught high school English and had penmanship that was worse than a doctor’s prescription note. If a student asks for help in reading a professor’s comments on their graded papers, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ve heard it before and won’t take offense.

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