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Issue

  1. I'm doing my capstone course for an engineering diploma program
  2. One of my partners is a native English speaker, but has severe issues in their writing
  3. In conversation she is fine, but has an accent (she is from Jamaica)
  4. We have 2 communications courses in our program, so there is little excuse for this
  5. I can't tell if she is just bad at writing, or doesn't proofread
  6. This is in Canada

Background

One of my team mates has writing that my other team mates find to be... not great? My other partner and I have agreed that we want to rewrite it all, but we can't afford the time to rewrite her parts. Having worked with her in the past, I know she doesn't take negative feedback well. To be fair, I wasn't able to discuss her work tactfully in the past, because of the short time frame of the projects. Given a couple months, I could probably coax better work out of her, but I am far from a charismatic or socially gifted person. I get by, but only by trying REALLY hard to not be awkward. In past projects with her I have expressed dissatisfaction, but never with any great deal of force... or tact... and she appears to be concerned by it, but either shuts down when "it gets too real" or makes no observable change.

The instructor gives us no formal way to grade our team mates, as you would in a business or humanities class. I'm uncertain about talking with the instructor about it, so I am reaching out to our communications professor for some guidance, but there's guarantee for help there.

The Question

Is there a tactful way for me to tackle this issue directly? Any specific tips? My other option is to have a 3rd party let her know she needs to step it up.

  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell Thank you. I have edited my post to a single question. – Mark Biernacki Oct 29 '20 at 18:37
  • For the comments: I'm curious how I might respectfully ask someone if they proofread their work? – Mark Biernacki Oct 29 '20 at 18:41
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    As a teacher, might i just note that I think it's worth bringing up with your instructor. It doesn't have to be blame-y, but present a problem to solve. "We're finding it hard to use our teammate's writing, and haven't been able to negotiate proofreading. What do you recommend?" – Euchris Oct 29 '20 at 21:47
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    Is it possible for you to work on your social skills? Are they also part of the communication courses? – guest Oct 29 '20 at 22:28
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    Does she make too many spelling errors or do her sentences make no sense grammatically? As a person wilth dislexia I must say the experience of trying to proofread my writing over and over for hours, only to be met by questions, wheather I have proofreaded it at lest once, is the most soul crusching feeling. – BagiM Oct 30 '20 at 9:07
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Is there a tactful way for me to tackle this issue directly?

There's a lot going on here. First off, I wouldn't rule out any issues such as dyslexia that may make writing 'correctly' hard for your group mate. And on your side, from your description of yourself there's a real chance your social awkwardness didn't help.

One of the ways I found you can give feedback in both school and professional life is by asking questions and opening up conversations. There's a world of difference between telling someone 'your writing sucks, please take some care to improve it' and

We noticed you seem to struggle with writing good/correct English, and when we notice that we worry that your actual work won't be valued as much, which would be a shame because it's good! Is there anything we can do to help improve your writing and make it easier for teachers to recognize the quality of our work?

An example where this worked: I've had coworkers that would often break 'our part' of the build, just because 'their part' was still fine. Instead of giving feedback that said 'you need to test better', we opened up a conversation about what we could do to help. One of the things we did was untangle some code, the other was that we made a list of things he had to keep in mind when testing because we simply couldn't untangle them.

Sometimes, there's a lot of 'fluff' needed for giving feedback. Othertimes, you can be more direct. What approach you use really depends on both the person giving feedback and the person receiving it, and the interpersonal relationship between the two. Some people prefer giving or receiving feedback sandwiches. Others might prefer receiving more direct feedback because the compliments feel fake, but they still e.g. appreciate the other person using I-messages so the feedback doesn't sound accusatory.

In your specific case, I would recommend giving the feedback in such a way that it allows for your group member to just ask for any help they might need to overcome their writing issues and increase the quality of your team's work. Be open to offering at least some amount of help. I understand you don't want to/don't have the time to rewrite everything, but if you can help by installing a spell-checker for them, that's a great outcome!

Given that you're dealing with someone who's reacted negatively to you and your feedback before, perhaps you can get your other team partner to lead the conversation. After all, they seem to have just as much trouble with this writing problem as you.

This might be a better option before asking a professor to fix it for you: my teachers would usually be very willing to help, but only once a group made an effort to sort things out themselves and it really didn't work. For example, I had a history teacher that only interfered and split our group once we showed two of the group members weren't doing anything, by requesting them to bring some books from the library in front of said teacher. When the books weren't there and we were just sitting in class doing nothing because we had no books, we were finally allowed to split the group.

The most difficult part here will be deciding on the who, where, and when. Two people giving feedback to one person can be intimidating. One person giving feedback on behalf of a group may face disbelief. Stopping someone in the middle of a hallway or taking them apart from a group/room may make people more nervous than just casually working the feedback into a conversation about the group project that's already going on.

I usually prefer dealing with single people and picking a more casual moment because that's how I like being dealt with, but I try to take note of clues like people reacting in a hushed voice to my feedback or that start fidgeting: At that point, it may be a sign they're uncomfortable because the place is too public for them. I think here the communications professor may be of help, especially if this professor also works with your other teammates they may have picked up on some clues that can help in making this decision about who, where and when.

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You admit not knowing the mistakes are from. Some people make mistakes and don't necessarily have the skills to eliminate them at proof reading, and some people make hasty work and don't proofread and naturally make more mistakes than they could have if they allocated more time.

Now, your need as I understand it, is that you'd like to know which scenario you sit in and second, if possible, she correct by herself the errors.

First off you need to setup a meeting. When I have to point out errors, I usually say I need a meeting because I have questions about the work. This is a technique I regularly use with colleagues, avoiding even the word of error or mistake would be less blaming and avoid some awkward situations - because after all maybe you're mistaken. I also try to remain factual and precise: find a few examples you already prepared, and question "Shouldn't it be two t's there ?".

Since the work is too big to peer review entirely during the meeting, then open the discussion after a few examples. If it's still not obvious based on her reaction when you point mistakes out, there is a subtle, but not perfect, way to gauge if she rushed it. You can ask how long it took her to write her part. I usually guess this when speaking to people within my team without asking but if you can't know then asking could give you a useful piece of information. You could compare with your own speed and determine if she's been struggling or not. If the timing seem really big, or seem made up, you could be questioning if she has any difficulties.

This is also a great start to decide together what to do about the proofread. If she seem able to correct herself without hesitation, admit having done it quickly she could be inclined to agree to proofread herself, she would implicitly admit having the ability and not having invested much. On the contrary if she invested a lot of time, don't seem sure when you point out errors, you'd have difficulties being convincing about her to proofread something that took long to write and look correct in her eyes.

When you ask her to proofread herself bear in mind this is a request and not a demand. You could explain how important is the work for you and that you lack time to do it yourself. Ultimately though, she could refuse, but then you could ask why and try to find a solution or compromise. While you do so, sticking to observable facts, refraining from any judgement, connecting with your need equally than hers; these are key components of the Nonviolent Communication, and should ensure the conversation goes smoothly.

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