I tend to scribble a lot

I tend to scribble a lot
Creative Commons License photo credit: Unhindered by Talent

When I edit, I tend to scribble a lot, even when it’s my own stuff (or the writing of people I really like). Last January, for example, I took a set of photos after scribbling all over a paper that Riccardo and I were working on for GECCO. This paper went on to win the Best Paper award in the genetic programming track at GECCO last month, so I’d like to think that all this editing had some value :-).

I posted the full set over in my events account, and I plan on using some of them to show my students that I’m not just being mean to them — I’m mean to everyone, myself included!

This showed up here now because a publisher contacted me about using it in a college writing textbook. I figured I’d clean it up and post the full size version.

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4 Responses to I tend to scribble a lot

  1. RPWiegand says:

    I do this, as well.

    Actually, I’m much, much harder on my own stuff. This has mainly to do with two factors: 1.) I know there will be no offense, regardless of what I noodle, and 2.) I’ve honed a writing process that works well for me and that process generates a lot of need for such hand editing almost by definition.

    I consider editing the hardest, longest, and most important part of (my|the) writing process. For me to write, it is essential to just get the thoughts out onto the page without constraining my inner voice much … but with that freedom comes a greater burden for my red pen. It’s just a whole lot easier to be clearer and more precise when you already have some context for what does or doesn’t work.

    As this (carelessly worded) response exemplifies, it’s also a lot easier for me to fill-out (and, ideally, come back later to prune back down) than it is to conceive of compact and efficient (yet clear) prose to begin with.

    And we aren’t the only ones: I used to hang onto a very careless abstract that I wrote while in graduate school that I had Sean Luke look at just to get his thoughts. There was more of Sean’s red than my black ink. At the time I was mildly frustrated that Sean had missed my point (I wanted feedback on the idea, not the text) … but later I realized that poor writing GETS IN THE WAY of the idea. And that is the point.

    I hope your students do appreciate it. It’s when you stop annotating their papers and just give them grades (good or bad) when they have to worry … because it might indicate that you no longer care what they say or how they are saying it.

    And your paper was a good paper — so I agree, it seems that all your editing had some value.

  2. Desert Donkey says:


    I’m sure glad I didnt know this when I offered to proof your programming book a few months ago; the pressure to meet your standards would have been intimidating.

    ’twas kind of you to tolerate my gentle suggestions :-)


  3. Dan says:

    I’ve always thought there should be special club for the students who have you edit their papers. I would call it the “Poopey Paper Club” or the “TP Paper Club”.

  4. Phi says:

    Paul: (I think) I wish I could say I’m harder on my own stuff, but I’m not entirely sure to be honest. I totally agree with you, though, about the importance of editing – it tends to be where the paper really “finds itself” for most people. A few folks can envision the whole thing in their head before they put pen to paper (Dijkstra could do this), but I think for most of the rest of us it’s a bit more like taking a block of marble and trying to chip away the bits that don’t look like an elephant :-). I like the store about your abstract with Sean; I’m afraid I’ve done this with my students more than a few times. But, as you say, you often can’t really separate the idea from the writing, as much as you wish you could. (Glad you liked the paper :->.)

    DD: Your (and everyone else’s) contributions were wonderful – no worries (and certainly) no pressure. I was super pleased with the kinds of detailed, thoughtful suggestions we got from our proofreaders, and we are very grateful for your time and attention.

    Dan: I like the idea of a club, but we’ve got to do something about your naming ideas! Your paper was hardly poopey, and I’m certainly not trying to send that message when I scribble on student work. Just that every piece of writing can be improved :-).

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