Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lazy writing

Posted on: May 2, 2017

Yesterday was Labour Day, a public holiday here to acknowledge the efforts of workers everywhere. Unfortunately, everyone could not take a day off or the place would shut down.

Some people have to work hard for others. Some people are hardly working. I might have discovered an example of the latter.

Thanks to this tweet, I read this Quartz article, Asians spend seven times as much as Americans on tutoring to give their kids an edge.

As it turned out, the “Asians” were not all those living in continental Asia, but those in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. America referred to the US of A. (Edit to add-it: Why “America” is not synonymous with the “USA”.)

You might say I am nitpicking; I say we should be precise. Such precision is important because a) you should not assume everyone understands things the way you do, and b) if you have a poor understanding, you should not perpetuate inaccuracies.

In another example of lazy writing, the same article dated 27 April 2017, concluded with a paragraph chunk copied from an article dated 14 September 2016.

2017:

“There is nothing wrong with parents trying to do the best for their children,” Manu Kapur, a professor of psychological studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, and former head of curriculum, teaching, and learning at the National Institute of Education of Singapore told Quartz. “It’s what they value as being good. That has to change.”

2016:

Kapur and other Singaporean policymakers recognize these challenges. “There is nothing wrong with parents trying to do the best for their children,” Kapur says. “It’s what they value as being good. That has to change.”

It is an excellent quote for the 2017 conclusion, but I wonder if:

  • it is ethical and logical to transfer a quote from one context and article to another.
  • a professor who lives and works overseas can be considered a Singaporean policymaker.
  • the author of the 2017 article bothered to check Kapur’s status (he is now Chair of Learning Sciences and Higher Education at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, source).

It is lazy writing to not update old information or to check facts.

Just as disturbing was reusing the same image for two different articles: One about Singapore and another about China. The 2016 article was about Singapore, but it featured a photo of students from China taking an exam from a different article six months earlier.

Screenshot of article about Singapore:

Article about Singapore with same image as the next one.

Screenshot of article about China:

Article about China with same image as the one above.

Visuals communicate powerfully and in ways that words cannot. The leading photo sets a tone and draws the eye to the article. Is one insidious message that China and Singapore are the same? Do we have the same mindset and behaviours?

An observant educator in Singapore would probably suspect the authenticity of the leading photo. I noticed the students were wearing the same jackets, were racially less varied, and in a hall likely larger than largest examination room we have.

How did I do my homework? I relied on the grapevine and an online search about Kapur, and I used TinEye reverse image search to investigate the leading photos.

A writer is also a fact-checker, particularly one who is doing investigative work. Did the Quartz writers and editors fact check? Do we teach our students adequately to do the same?

Ultimately, rigorous fact-checking and precise writing build trust. This trust erodes if these basics are not done right. Now I will think twice before tweeting about or recommending a Quartz article.

2 Responses to "Lazy writing"

Maziah: Lazy writing ashleytan.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/laz… via twitter.com

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